The Mauritanian - B-
Rated R, 129 minutes
The modestly entertaining, compelling thriller "The Mauritanian" isn't anything new, but a solid story and acting make this film based on real events worth a watch. Directed by Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland"), has worthy material but is occasionally flawed in execution.
Mohamedou Ould Salahi ("A Prophet's" Tamir Rahim, great here), is captured by the U.S. government on suspicions of being a 9/11 terrorist and held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp without any real charges. Defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Oscar-winner Jodie Foster, excellent) and her associate Teri Duncan ("The Descendants" Shailene Woodley) defend Salahi of the charges and their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by formidable military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Oscar-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch), eventually reveal details far more shocking and troubling.
"The Mauritanian" is co-written by M.B. Traven, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani and is based on Salahi's account, "Guantanamo Diary," which would've made a better title for the film. The film benefits from a solid, tense first act and a superb turn from Foster as Hollander, who stayed on Salahi's case for the 14 years he was held at Guantanamo without charge. As a matter of fact, it's Foster's best role in years and without her, the film wouldn't be near as good.
On the other hand, the overlong, muddled second half of the film hurts the film, when it attempts to explain why the U.S. government held Salahi for so long (and we still really do not know) and it would've been better to focus on Salahi's imprisonment than to seek hard and fast answers, which are never easy when it involves the government. As well, the usually good Cumberbatch is miscast as Couch, with an unrealistic Southern accent that doesn't help this uneven second act.
"The Mauritanian" is peppered with some powerful moments and is best when it focuses on Salahi's case, and the exchanges between Hollander and Salahi, well-played by Rahim, highlight the film. Stay over for the end credits to see the real figures of the case, which make for an uplifting coda to Salahi's unfortunate case.