Last night I watched The Mauritanian for the second time. In light of the recent death of war criminal, torture advocate and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, this beautifully made film reminds us of what we’d like to forget. Yet Guantanamo prison is still not closed after 20 years.
Director Kevin Macdonald uses flashbacks and parallel layers to show the evolution of the interlocking lives in a story that contains little fabrication. It doesn’t need it.
Stars Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch do justice to the courageous Americans they portray and the amazing actor Tahar Rahim captures the indomitable spirit of this young man who was plucked from his home in the northwest African country of Mauritania and sent to “Gitmo” via prisons in Jordan and at Bagram Air Base in Afganistan.
As Mohamedou Ould Slahi says in a post-film conversation with the director, “As much as Kevin tried to make this movie dramatic, the reality was more dramatic.” He chuckles after making this statement, sitting next to his friend and attorney Nancy Hollander who finally secured her client’s release, more than seven years after the film closes with the notification that he had “won his case.”
Some reviews criticize the story for being more of a legal drama than truly exploring this most compassionate (and innocent) human being who was confined for 14 years without charge. (His lawyer says passing a lie detector twice had no relevance).
Perhaps because I had seen the Democracy Now interviews with all the principals and had read Guantanamo Diary when it was published in 2015—albeit riddled with redactions—that I felt I knew Mohamedou quite well through his writings. In fact, it was his handwritten pages taken out of confinement through official channels that formed the basic testimony of this legal battle.
Check out the interviews with award-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald, the tenacious attorneys and award-winning actors Foster, Cumberbatch and Shaylene Woodley. Listen to Mohamedou himself asking President Joe Biden to close the military prison that is such a horrid contrast to the beautiful island on which it is located.
It is only through a rare, three-inch hole in the canvas covering the cyclone fences that the detainee gets a glimpse of crashing waves on a beach that resembles the beloved coast of his birthplace. If you see only one 2021 release, this should be it.
Here is the trailer. (Unfortunately, you have to skip the initial ads)