Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Another foray into the punishing world of Gitmo


     The Mauritanian draws inspiration from a best-selling memoir by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man who spent 14 years imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 
     Slahi was arrested in Mauritania in 2001. He had just returned from Germany, a country identified as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. Earlier, Slahi had visited Afghanistan.
     At the time of Slahi's Afghanistan foray,  mujahideen fighters -- with US support -- were battling a communist government. Slahi also had been involved in a financial transaction involving a cousin who was part of the al Qaeda web.
     The Mauritanian clearly stands on Slahi's side, taking a highly critical view of the interrogation methods adopted during the George W. Bush, post 9/11 administration. Slahi, by the way, never was charged with a crime.
      Although he's depicted as considering himself safe from prosecution at the movie's outset,  Slahi awakens in Gitmo where he endures a Kafkaesque 14 years that included good guy/bad guy interrogation and torture. 
     After  enduring numerous bouts of torture, Slahi confessed.
     Enter Albuquerque-based attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) who takes on Slahi's case as part of her pro bono work. She's assisted by Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), a younger attorney.
    Benedict Cumberbatch plays a Louisiana-born marine, the attorney who opposes Hollander's efforts but seems a decent enough fellow. 
    Religious and committed to his job, Cumberbatch's Lt. Col. Stuart Couch lost a pal on United Flight 175. He's enthusiastic about his work, but he's also portrayed as a man who believes in fair play. He doesn't want to be part of what might amount to a conspiratorial lynching.
     Foster opts for a performance consisting of tight, highly controlled gestures. An underutilized Woodley doesn't make much of an impression. 
     Not surprisingly, the movie's most vivid performance is given by Tahar Rahim, as Slahi, a man who doesn't immediately tell his lawyers about his confession for fear that he'll be tortured again.
     Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) plays the story straight, turning the film into a legal procedural with highly unsettling scenes of Slahi's torture.
    Thanks to Slahi's Guantanamo Diary, lots of news reports, and documentaries, the material in The Mauritanian, though predictably disturbing, hardly feels revelatory. 
    At this point, The Mauritanian feels less like a compelling expose than a dutiful reminder that Guantanamo has produced stories that the US won't want to paste in its book of proud memories. 

No comments: