‘The Mauritanian’ Review: A Tale of Truth-Seeking

The most enjoyable moments of the Guantánamo drama “The Mauritanian” occur during the end credits as the film’s real-life subject, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, listens to a Bob Dylan song. Laughing delightedly and singing along, he’s the picture of contentment — not of someone who just spent more than 14 years in an infamous American prison.

That extraordinary resilience will, if you’re lucky, be your most vivid takeaway from this dogged and punishing tale of torture and truth-seeking. Trapped for the most part in featureless rooms, a stellar cast — including Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch and Shailene Woodley — deliver dull speeches and sift through redacted documents, brows furrowed and lips compressed. In parallel scenes, Slahi (an exceptional Tahar Rahim), arrested after the Sept. 11 attacks because of connections to Al Qaeda, endures the kind of abuse and deprivation that multiple movies and television shows have rendered all too familiar.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald and based on Slahi’s 2015 memoir, the story focuses mainly on the efforts of the defense lawyer Nancy Hollander (Foster) to obtain a hearing for Slahi and, hopefully, his release. She’s more hindered than helped in this endeavor by a junior associate, Teri Duncan (Woodley), who’s written with a gullibility that borders on unprofessional.

“We know that you’re innocent!” Teri blurts out during an interview with their client, undermining the movie’s emphasis on the universal right to due process. Flavorless characters and a blizzard of flashbacks further repel our involvement in a drama whose timing, to say the least, is unfortunate. After weathering almost five years of rolling political scandals, American audiences could be less than eager to be reminded of one more.

The Mauritanian
Rated R for torture, including sexual assault. Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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