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MOVIES: GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 - The Mauritanian - Review

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The Mauritanian is the kind of safe legal drama that you’ve seen thousands of times before, most recently in the Adam Driver-starring The Report. A Guantanamo Bay prisoner is deemed worthy of fighting for by Nancy Hollander, a lawyer who believes in everyone’s right to the trial no matter how guilty the person may be – or may appear to be – with Jodie Foster stepping into the role with assured conviction. The prisoner in this case is played by Tahar Rahim, who despite being surrounded by A-Listers like Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch, puts in easily the best performance of the film and arguably one of the best performances of the year so far as a captured prisoner who is gradually losing faith in the American justice system after coming there a believer in that he will be tried fairly because everyone has the right to a fair trial. .

Spanning multiple years his imprisonment takes a toll on Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and we see, narrated through flashbacks, his time in the prison get increasingly more barbaric as the US Government up their game for torture in order learn what he may or may not know. It’s chilling to witness, but at the same time, Kevin Macdonald is smart enough not to overindulge, keeping the more uncomfortable scenes reigned in and subdued compared to other movies that have covered similar grounds.

Unfortunately, Macdonald lends The Mauritanian to a more familiar feel than before. The cast mostly feel like they’re on autopilot, it’s the role that Jodie Foster could have played well in her sleep and Shailene Woodley isn’t given much to do other than be someone for Hollander to explain the plot to for audiences who might not be averse to legal drama cliches as the rest of us. It has all the traditional scenes you’d expect – the lawyers walking through a mob of angry protesters – a drive through a multi-storey car-park – the “what happened next” biopic style ending, it’s very much a safe bet from The Last King of Scotland and State of Play director. But that said – whilst there is not enough done to elevate it from the rest of the genre, The Mauritanian is very much a traditionally workmanlike attempt at utilising what works, the quieter and deliberately slow pace moving along at a crawl may be off-putting to some but it gives the film an edge that allows you to take in the subtle nuance that Tahar Rahim brings to the role.

This is the sort of film that’s likely to get picked up by the Golden Globes but shut out entirely at the Oscars as it isn’t quite the heavyweight that many were expecting The Mauritanian to be and I think the awards hype might have harmed my expectations of it a little. Its pacing will largely be what kills it for you if you’re not in the mood to watch a slower-burn legal drama which those less familiar with the story itself like myself will get the most out of – but it does enough to give audiences who know the events something to get to grips with.

Fans of procedural legal dramas like The Report and movies like The Front Runner that excel in the minutiae may get something out of The Mauritanian but it can’t help but feel a decidedly weaker entry to the well-trodden genre.

The Mauritanian had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival 2021.

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