The Mauritanian (2021)

It’s not something that I have had the chance to really talk about in the time I’ve been writing this blog, but I absolutely, unequivocally, love Jodie Foster. From Bugsy Malone to Taxi Driver to The Silence Of The Lambs and more, Foster has always been one of my favourites, and with more of her efforts turned towards directing and producing in recent years, any acting role that she takes on is a real treat for me. You can imagine my delight then, when the day before I get to see The Mauritanian, my fave picks up a casual Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

The film tells the true story of the Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), a Mauritanian national who spent more than fourteen years in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp without any charge or trial. After discovering the extent of his case a few years into his detainment, defense attorneys Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) offer to represent Salahi, uncovering shocking government secrets and conspiracies along the way.

As legal dramas of this kind go, The Mauritanian is very much a middle of the road, box ticking type of exercise that hits all its marks without every really breaking out and branding itself as special. Being a story that details such a monumental injustice, the facts of the plot alone do a lot to carry the film in terms of interest and emotional investment, and for a film that doesn’t take too many risks with its techniques and devices, I was pleasantly surprised by how engrossed I remained over the two hour, ten minute running time.

Though The Mauritanian probably isn’t going to be regarded as a seminal work in this emerging post 9/11, war on terror reflection genre, it definitely has some worth alongside other recent pictures like The Report. It’s a rather straightforward telling of a highly dramatic and emotionally charged story, and as is often the case with this kinds of movies, the power of the narrative carries the film almost on its own without even thinking about the technicalities of the filmmaking. You are much more gripped by the performances and the power of the plot than you are the technical prowess of the picture, but that being said, there are a few devices used that I think are a little bit corny and inelegant at this stage in the game. Stuff like a different aspect ratio to depict flashbacks and different periods of the story, surely we can think of more cultivated ways to direct audiences these days?

I’ll refrain from talking about Jodie Foster straight away to give Tahar Rahim his dues, because as Mohamedou Ould Salahi he proves to be an exceptional leading talent. For a film about a decades long Guantanamo Bay prisoner, it’s quite amazing how much light Rahim manages to exude along with the understandable darkness. A series of questionable life decisions and unfortunate coincidences resulted in his initial detainment, but the facts of the matter are that Salahi was not the high powered terror sect leader that the American government willed him to be, and Rahim feels like the perfect choice for the role. You like Mohamedou almost instantly, and the twists and turns that the narrative takes are already emotive on the page, but made even more impactful Rahim’s outstanding performance.

Now then, who else was in the movie? Oh yeah! As Nancy Hollander, Jodie Foster is everything that I hoped she would be. It’s not the most demanding or showy role, and it’s something that is well within her comfort zone, but there is just something magic about having a multiple Academy Award winner smash something out of the park, no matter how big or small the role. There is an effortlessness to everything that Foster does here, a charisma that not every performer has. In more recent times it’s become very clear that she is the kind of actress who can shine in anything even when the material isn’t great, and the praise she is receiving for The Mauritanian just goes to show what can happen when you have even half good material to work with. I really hope that this awards run sparks a whole new era of Jodie in front of the camera as well as behind it.

Overall, The Mauritanian is a solid enough legal drama that succeeds in telling a shocking and emotive story in a proficient way. Elevated by the excellent performances of both Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster, it’s not a film that is going to go down in history as a genre classic, but it’s an engrossing couple of hours that brings to life a very worthy and vital tale. Worth a watch if legal drama is your kind of thing!

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