Tahar Rahim, Nouhe Hamady Bari, Saadna Hamoud, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch
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…scathing, extremely powerful in places, and it never cops out.
Mainstream films about real-life gross miscarriages of justice – especially American ones – have a tendency to end up contriving some sort of tribute to the essential decency of the system. Not this one. It’s scathing, it’s extremely powerful in places, and it never cops out.
The titular Mauritanian here is Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), a young man who is arrested by the local police in November 2001 (2 months after 9/11). Before you know it, he’s in Guantanamo Bay. The action shifts briefly at various points to Washington D.C., Albuquerque, New Orleans, even Afghanistan… But the ‘guts’ of the story unfolds in the hellish Cuban prison. It starts off rather understated – wry, even – but be assured that it becomes deeply disturbing: the stuff that nightmares are made of. Waking ones, in the case of Slahi himself.
Jodie Foster plays Nancy Hollander, Slahi’s defense attorney, and Benedict Cumberbatch is Stuart Couch, his chief (military) prosecutor. The allegation is that Slahi was one of the organisers, and the chief recruiter, for 9/11. Allegation, that is, as opposed to charge – because he was NEVER charged with a crime. This is in spite of being imprisoned for many years, and interrogated for three of those years for eighteen hours a day.
Rahim is excellent in the role and everyone else is fine too, but what you’ll probably remember more vividly will be the depictions of the savage abuse – or “special measures”, to use the official euphemism – which he suffered at the hands of his captors. That said, the more subtle detail about Hollander’s dogged struggle to get access to unredacted records is quite interesting in itself, and so are the interactions between her and the deeply scarred, tough and inevitably wary Slahi.