The Mauritanian review – in limbo in Guantánamo with Tahar Rahim

This adaptation of a post-9/11 prisoner’s memoir is strong on procedural drama but blunted by stylised torture scenes

When Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) arrives at Guantánamo Bay, she’s wearing sunglasses. Her chic white bob and blue button-down shirt are hardly provocative, but a guard advises her to wear a hijab anyway – the detainees have been known to spit at women. The moment recalls Foster’s trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, met with a different bodily fluid in the bowels of a psychiatric hospital.

The Mauritanian, a post-9/11 legal drama based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s 2015 memoir Guantánamo Diary, is less concerned with the particular psychology of its incarcerated protagonist than with the political machinery that kept him behind bars without an official criminal charge for 14 years.

The excellent Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) brings softness and seriousness to Slahi, but overripe flashbacks to his horrific torture are shot with a cartoonish edge. It’s a double bind: depict an interrogation scene too realistically and run the risk of torture porn, but veer too off-kilter and the effect is distancing. Here, the styling is at odds with the otherwise straightforward courtroom narrative. The prestige procedural elements work better; the real-life story is enraging, and it’s fun to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s morally conflicted military prosecutor lock horns with Foster’s icy human rights lawyer.

On Amazon Prime

Watch a trailer for The Mauritanian


Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Mauritanian review – fence-sitting Guantánamo drama provides few answers
This painfully worthy adaptation of former inmate Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary stars only good guys, and is hand-wringingly self congratulatory

Peter Bradshaw

31, Mar, 2021 @11:14 AM

Article image
Money Monster review – a shouty blend of The Big Short and Network
Jack O’Connell makes a lot of noise to little effect in Jodie Foster’s crude media satire

Wendy Ide

29, May, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Tahar Rahim: 'I've always refused to play terrorists'

Jonathan Romney: The star of A Prophet is not to be typecast: his latest film, The Past, is an emotional drama, and there's a Christmas comedy in the pipeline

Jonathan Romney

09, Mar, 2014 @12:05 AM

Article image
When Marnie Was There; Alice Through the Looking Glass; Mother’s Day; Money Monster and more – review
Studio Ghibli’s farewell film works like a dream, while Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass is more nightmare

Guy Lodge

02, Oct, 2016 @6:30 AM

Article image
The Current War review – electricity drama lacks juice
Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon can’t find the vital spark in this tale of rival scientists

Wendy Ide

27, Jul, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Tahar Rahim: 'Not everybody is this crazy'

French actor Tahar Rahim shrugs off his disturbing new film, speaks a little Gaelic and offers to give sad fans a hug

Henry Barnes

09, May, 2013 @5:11 PM

Article image
The Power of the Dog review – Jane Campion’s full-blooded, emotional western
Kirsten Dunst’s Rose is caught between her husband and Benedict Cumberbatch’s hard-bitten brother-in-law in this poetic return from the New Zealand director

Wendy Ide

20, Nov, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Doctor Strange; Endless Poetry; The Young Offenders and more – review
Benedict Cumberbatch makes for an odd superhero in a feast of enjoyable claptrap

Guy Lodge

05, Mar, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Grand Central review – atomically charged Tahar Rahim-Léa Seydoux romance

An erotic drama set in a nuclear power plant uses its unusual setting to irradiate Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux with ardour, writes Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

17, Jul, 2014 @8:40 PM

Article image
Harrowing ordeal of Guantánamo prisoner comes to the big screen
The Mauritanian tells the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was held in the notorious prison for 14 years without charge or trial

Dalya Alberge

03, Jan, 2021 @8:30 AM