Thursday, February 11, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Released February 12, 2021 (Theaters)

There is an unfortunate tendency in the criminal justice system to apply the severity of an act to way a suspect deserves to be treated. Innocent until proven guilty means that an accusation shouldn’t be a sufficient on its own, and yet there are all too many instances of people, particularly those of color, being considered as if they have been convicted before a charge has even been filed. In the case of something even more extreme, like terrorism, the need to secure information regardless of complicity can be particularly dangerous, a theme explored in detail in Kevin Macdonald’s incisive look at a truly broken system.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) is arrested following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and held without charge. After numerous interrogations that allege his involvement in their planning, he arrives at Guantanamo Bay. While military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) prepares his case, defense attorneys Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) meet and see a kind-hearted man who harbors no ill will towards them and seeks only to prove his innocence.

This is the latest film to delve into the prominent and disturbing use of torture by American authorities, after “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “The Report,” and others. Its narrative starts from Slahi’s perspective as he voluntarily comes in for questioning and then finds all of his rights stripped away from him, before shifting to the legal battle that ensues with the lawyers on both sides investigating and discovering disturbing activity that, regardless of what Slahi may have done, should be deemed unacceptable and never merited. This film doesn’t contain as much upsetting visual material as something like “Zero Dark Thirty,” but still gets its point across about the unfairness and despicable nature of Slahi’s treatment. It should be impossible to walk away from this film believing that there was nothing done wrong by those holding and interrogating Slahi as a prisoner.

Rahim is a dependable actor who broke out in the Oscar-nominated “A Prophet” in 2009, and he delivers a lived-in, sympathetic performance that makes Slahi feel relatable and not yet resigned to the eventuality of his situation. Foster, Woodley, and Cumberbatch offer standard supporting turns that assist the story, but this film is really anchored by Rahim’s starring role. The fact that it is adapted from the real Slahi’s own memoir only adds to its relevance and impact. Director Kevin Macdonald, whose work on “One Day in September” and “The Last King of Scotland” has demonstrated his ability to handle the complicated intersection of good and evil, sensitively handles this material and brings it to the screen in compelling fashion that just can’t be ignored.


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