Starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
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.
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 .
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.