Preview: The Mauritanian

George Cochrane previews the political thriller directed by Academy Award winner, Kevin Macdonald

George Cochrane
13th December 2020
Kevin Macdonald’s upcoming legal drama about Guantanamo Bay won’t be winning him any friends in Washington.

Based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s bestselling memoir, Guantánamo Diary, the film documents Salahi’s fourteen-year wrongful imprisonment in the world’s most infamous detention centre and the efforts of two attorneys to free him. It is a story of cruelty, corruption, and cover-ups, and when Salahi’s book was published back in 2015, the US government had no choice but to admit it: an innocent man was tortured.

On the strength of its trailer, this cinematic telling of the story looks equally tough. There is surely no actor steelier or more formidable than Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver) and she seems the perfect choice for the defence attorney fighting Salahi’s corner, Nancy Hollander (My Brother's Keeper). It’s great to see Foster in a movie at all, in fact – she doesn’t do many and is famously choosy about her projects – and so her presence here is almost a guarantee of quality.

It's great to see Foster in a movie at all, in fact - she doesn't do many and is famously choosy about her projects - and so her presence here is almost a guarantee of quality

Then, as Salahi, we have Tahar Rahim, another good piece of casting. Still best known for his star-making performance in French crime drama A Prophet (2009), Rahim has been regularly dubbed the French Al Pacino, and with good reason: he’s small, slight, and yet utterly magnetic. When you have a victim character like Salahi, who doesn’t have much agency, you really need an actor with that sort of magnetism.

Image credit: Digital Spy

Rounding off the cast is Shailene Woodley (Divergent) as Hollander’s partner, Teri Duncan, and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch. Cumberbatch has been the driving force behind the film; it was his production company, SunnyMarch, who bought the rights to Salahi’s book back in 2016 and his star power, no doubt, that has helped get the project financed and made. All credit to him. I’m just not sure about that Southern accent, Benny.

Still, I am glad that serious, intelligent films like this are still being made.

Still, I am glad that serious, intelligent films like this are still being made. We can say with some confidence that abuses like this happen at the highest level every day, and yet there are remarkably few features – plenty of documentaries, but few features – which dare to blow the whistle on them. Spotlight (2015) and the criminally underrated Dark Waters (2019) come to mind from recent years, but I’d struggle to name many more.

This is why I am particularly pleased about who’s directing this one: Kevin Macdonald. Most acclaimed for his documentary work, Macdonald has an impressive track record for investigating difficult subjects – like the Munich massacre in his Oscar-winning One Day in September (1999) and Whitney Houston’s personal life in Whitney (2018). I expect him to bring the same inquisitiveness to the subject of Guantanamo.

Feature image credit: IMDB

The Mauritanian will be released in UK cinemas on 26 February 2021.

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