Any film that reminds us of the continued civil rights scandal on the US’s extrajudicial detention camp at Guantánamo Bay must be a very good factor: it’s still open for business right now, with 40 prisoners inside. The identical goes for any reminder of the 9/11 terrorist outrage and the backlash of livid revenge it was designed to impress, implanting a virus of rage and worry that threatens to stay on within the American bloodstream like malaria.
However I used to be dissatisfied by this well-meaning film, based mostly on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi from Mauritania in north-west Africa. A former muhajideen anti-communist fighter in Afghanistan within the Nineteen Nineties, who was picked up and handed over to the US authorities after 9/11 (with the Mauritanian authorities’s permission) and stored at Guantánamo Bay with out cost or trial for a staggering 14 years, from 2002 to 2016; he was launched when the state lastly accepted his confessions had been worthless, having been obtained by torture.
The movie is customized by screenwriters MB Traven, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani from Salahi’s guide, Guantánamo Diary, revealed in 2015 whereas he was nonetheless inside: the scribbled pages commonly handed to his lawyer Nancy Hollander. Franco-Algerian star Tahar Rahim performs Salahi; Jodie Foster performs Hollander and Shailene Woodley is her affiliate, Teri Duncan. Benedict Cumberbatch performs the crewcut navy prosecutor Lt Col Stuart Sofa, who was fairly gung-ho about getting the loss of life penalty for his man till he realised that it meant counting on torture and disregarding the structure and the rule of legislation.
To date, so admirable. However with this film, we’re plunged proper again into the exasperating 9/11 fence-sitting handwringer style that was modern within the 00s: conscience-stricken movies that invited us to sympathise with their liberal agony, reminiscent of Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs (2007), Gavin Hood’s Rendition (2007) and Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005).
The Mauritanian is a film that seems to be comprised totally of excellent guys: Salahi himself is an effective man, in fact, and so naturally are Hollander and Duncan, doggedly ploughing by the containers of authorized paperwork that the authorities permit them to see, and persistently asking for extra. However the chief prosecutor Sofa is an effective man as nicely, troubled along with his lastly overwhelming qualms of conscience as a real patriot. (Hollander and Sofa are proven having a fairly cordial beer collectively on the Guantánamo guests’ cafe.) Lastly, Salahi will get his day in court docket during which, with stirring music on the soundtrack, he praises American TV exhibits reminiscent of Ally McBeal and American justice itself.
So with all these potent good guys successfully rooting for the prisoner, why did he keep banged up for therefore lengthy? There aren’t any main gamers on the dangerous man group right here: authoritarian meanies are permitted on display provided that they’re dramatically dominated by a liberal convert: Cumberbatch. There’s nothing and nobody on this movie with the dramatic standing of, say, Jack Nicholson’s ferociously unrepentant Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Males, scripted by Aaron Sorkin, and there’s no “you can’t handle the truth” second. There’s simply official silence from the authorities and the drama itself; a sombre announcement flashes up on display that Salahi stayed in Guantánamo for six years after the prosecution collapsed in 2010 – by order of the Obama authorities. As for Salahi himself, he doesn’t appear bitter in regards to the US nor Mauritanian authorities by the tip of the image; he doesn’t want to take motion in opposition to them, but neither does he explicitly forgive them.
It’s opaque and irritating. Rahim offers a superbly respectable efficiency and everybody else does an sincere job. Salahi himself is throroughly entitled to his personal joyful ending, cheerfully listening to Bob Dylan over the closing credit. However this film is content material with congratulating itself for being on the fitting facet of historical past, with little consideration paid to questions unanswered and historical past unresolved.
• The Mauritanian is launched on 19 February within the US, and on 26 February within the UK.