TOAny movie that reminds us of the ongoing civil rights scandal at the US extrajudicial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay should be a good thing – it’s still open to the public right now, with 40 prisoners inside. The same goes for any reminder of the terrorist outrage of 9/11 and the backlash of furious revenge it was designed to provoke, implanting a virus of rage and fear that threatens to live in the American bloodstream like malaria.
But I was disappointed in this well-intentioned film, based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi from Mauritania, in Northwest Africa. A former muhajideen anti-communist fighter in Afghanistan in the 1990s, who was detained and turned over to US authorities after 9/11 (with the permission of the Mauritanian government) and kept in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial for a staggering 14 years. from 2002 to 2016; he was released when the State finally accepted that his confessions were worthless, having been obtained through torture.
The film is adapted by screenwriters MB Traven, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani from Salahi’s book, The Guantánamo Diary, published in 2015 while he was still inside: the scribbled pages that he regularly handed over to his lawyer Nancy Hollander. Franco-Algerian star Tahar Rahim plays Salahi; Jodie Foster plays Hollander and Shailene Woodley is her partner, Teri Duncan. Benedict Cumberbatch plays military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, who was quite enthusiastic about the death penalty for his man until he realized that it meant relying on torture and disregarding the constitution and the rule of law.
So far, admirable. But with this movie, we plunged back into the infuriating 9/11 fence sitting handbreaker genre that was all the rage in the 2000s: movies with a conscience that invited us to sympathize with their liberal agony, like Lions. for Lambs by Robert Redford (2007), Rendition by Gavin Hood (2007) and Syriana by Stephen Gaghan (2005).
The Mauritanian is a movie that seems to be made up entirely of good guys: Salahi himself is a good guy, of course, and so naturally are Hollander and Duncan, stubbornly opening the boxes of legal documents that the authorities allow them. see, and persistently asking for more. But Chief Prosecutor Couch is a nice guy too, troubled by his ultimately overwhelming scruples of conscience like a true patriot. (Hollander and Couch are shown having a reasonably cordial beer together at the Guantanamo visitor cafe.) Finally, Salahi has his day in court where, with moving music on the soundtrack, he praises American television shows like Ally McBeal and American justice. itself.
So with all these powerful good guys effectively supporting the prisoner, why did he stay beaten up for so long? There are no major players on the baddie squad here – authoritarian baddies are allowed on screen on the condition that they are dramatically dominated by a liberal convert – Cumberbatch. There is nothing and no one in this film with the dramatic status of, say, Jack Nicholson’s fiercely unrepentant colonel Nathan Jessup in Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay A Few Good Men, and there is nothing. “You can’t handle the truth” moment. There is only official silence from the authorities and the drama itself; a grim announcement appears on the screen that Salahi remained in Guantanamo for six years after the prosecution’s collapse in 2010, on the orders of the Obama administration. As for Salahi himself, he does not seem embittered by the US or Mauritanian authorities at the end of the painting; he does not want to take action against them, but he does not explicitly forgive them either.
It’s dull and frustrating. Rahim gives a perfectly decent performance and everyone else does an honest job. Salahi himself has every right to his own happy ending, gleefully listening to Bob Dylan during the ending credits. But this movie is content to congratulate itself on being on the right side of the story, with little attention to the unanswered questions and the unsolved story.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism