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Tahar Rahim’s Performance Lifts The Mauritanian

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Tahar Rahim's Performance Lifts The Mauritanian 20

The Mauritanian

Starring  Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Directed  by  Kevin Macdonald

Rating: ***

They gave  the  Golden Globe to the wrong actor in  the  right  film. Powerful  as she  is, Jodie Foster  is  neither  the best  supporting actress (she is  the lead)  nor  did she deserve  to be awarded  for this performance. It is  the  Algerian French actor Tahar Rahim whose performance as  the  terror-accused   Mohamedou Ould Salahi will numb  you senseless with his bludgeoning  performance.

 Detailing every  hurt pain, wound welter  and wince  of  the  wrongly accused suspected terrorist,   Rahim brings to  the table the  kind of clenched intensity that I  haven’t seen in  a  long time. Rahim lives the character’s agony,  as he  was  confined in America’s  most controversial and  brutal  prison in Guantanamo Bay. They  tortured Salahi  for 14 years but couldn’t find any  proof that was a part of  the 9/11 attack.

This  is  a supremely brave  film,  though in trying to make  it a mass-appeal  experience it ends up focusing too  hard on slickness, sometimes at  the cost of  a more elaborate  narrative. Nonetheless  the film packs in  enough  of  a punch to be considered a winner. The storytelling is  stylish though ballsy. Director  Kevin Macdonald doesn’t shy away from pulling up the American administration for  doing some terrible cover-up jobs just to look unvanquished  before its people in the  9/11  battle to bring the  culprits  to book.

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 As the narrative unfolds  the  director drops his polite genteel tone to suck us right into the savagery as  the Administration breaks every law and guideline to  break  the  9/11 suspect  into a confession.

It is easy to get sympathetic towards Salahi’s plight, and generalize on how many innocent Muslims get branded terrorist because  of  the way they speak  and dress and the way their political and  religious allegiance  seems  to point at their culpability. Director Kevin Macdonaldand  his writers(M.B. Traven, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani) never take the easy route by  conveniently reversing the process  of  demonization and   turning the legal machinery  into the  wrongdoers. 

The Mauritanian  is  not so much about whether  Salahi is guilty or not(till the end  there is a suspicion that  may not be as innocent as  he seems). It is  about the travesty of  justice and  the inhuman depths to which  the  Adminstration can fall to  show the right  numbers  in their files. In that sense this is  not just an American story. Look closely. You will find a Mauritanian(Salahi is  thus  named  in  prison as  he  hails from Mauritania) much too close  to home for comfort.In that sense this is the most universal un-demonizing of a suspected terrorist you are  likely to see   in a film coming from a democratic  state  of mind .

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The  Mauritanian has some fatal flaws. The dramatic tension between lawyer Jodie  Foster and her subordinate(the lovely Shailene Woodley) is  never worked out. This is not a great film. But it contains  a great performance and  it makes you realize that  collateral damage is not as  condonable as  governments make it out to be.

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