The Mauritanian: Riveting, rage-inducing drama that marks return of Jodie Foster

The Mauritanian (TBC, 129mins) Directed by Kevin Macdonald ****
Of all the controversial inclusions and omissions at this years Golden Globes, at least the Hollywood Foreign Press got one thing right.

Jodie Foster fully deserved her award for best supporting actress for her fabulous performance in this riveting and rage-inducing drama. That the Academy have subsequently overlooked her turn as crusading lawyer Nancy Hollander is madness. In truth though, one thing may have counted against the 58-year-old its really the lead female role.

Based on The Mauritanian of the title, Mohamedou Ould Slahis 2015 book Guantnamo Diary, this details Hollanders fight to free the alleged 9/11 recruiter from the US infamous Cuban-based detention camp.

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It all starts in November 2001, when Slahi (Tahir Rahim) is visited by government officials during a wedding in his homeland. Initially thinking they are there about the satellite dish hes just installed, he assures his mother theres nothing to worry about. They wouldnt let me drive if I wasnt coming back.

However, with the US government convinced that he played a key role in the horrific events in New York, evidence of calls from his phone to Osama Bin Ladens and testimony from others of his involvement, there are no plans to allow him to have his freedom back anytime soon.

Fast-forward to 2005 and German newspaper Der Spiegel reports that, while theres been no trace of him for three years, they are convinced that hes been detained at Guantanamo. American military officials refuse to confirm his existence, but with a 2004 US Supreme Court ruling establishing that those imprisoned there had the right to challenge their detention, his name suddenly surfaces and hes entitled to legal representation. Enter Nancy Hollander.

Jodie Foster won a Golden Globe for her performance as Nancy Hollander in The Mauritanian, but has been overlooked for the Oscars.

Persuading her somewhat reluctant firm to take the case pro bono, she co-opts junior colleague Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) and the pair head to Cuba to meet their client. They quickly discover that the US military and government are determined to thwart their attempts to uncover the truth about the reasoning for his continued imprisonment. Key documents are initially withheld, then severely redacted, while Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) has been enlisted to build a watertight case to ensure Slahi is convicted.

Known as much for documentaries like Touching the Void, Whitney and One Day in September, as his dramatic work (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play, Black Sea), director Kevin Macdonald has crafted an emotion-fuelled legal drama thats less a courtroom thriller and more a Courage Under Fire or Spotlight-esque search to reveal whats really been happening.

In some ways, its a perfect companion piece to last years fellow Amazon tale The Report. A Hurt Locker to that films Zero Dark Thirty. There are some scenes that certainly arent an easy watch, but there are far more that will induce rage as to how an administration got away with such violations of basic human rights.

The Mauritanian details lawyer Nancy Hollanders (Jodie Foster) long-running battle to free Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahir Rahim).

Of course, The Mauritanians trio of writers assist the audience in knowing where their sympathies should lie. If theres a fault, its that things are a little too cut-and-dried about innocence, blame and global geopolitics, but whats not in doubt is that it contains a trio of magnificent performances.

Cumberbatch wears his role as the storys weathervane quite brilliantly. He plays his career army-man as a coiled spring, tightly wound, believing unstintingly in what his country tells him is right, until uncovering actions that he finds unconscionable. Rahim, so sublime in his breakthrough role in 2009s A Prophet, smartly doesnt play Slahi as a saint, but as a man who made choices he believed in (at a time when the US also believed in them) and just wants to see his family once again. Its an understated turn that a more high-profile actor might have gone too far with.

And then theres Foster, pretty much missing in action from the big screen since 2013s Elysium. The Mauritanian marks a welcome return to the spotlight for the 58-year-old, as she delivers another in her pantheon of memorable creations.There are echoes of The Silence of the Lambs Clarice Starling, The Brave Ones Erica Bain and Inside Mans Madeline White in Nancy Hollander, a woman determined to see justice served.

The Mauritanian is an emotion-fuelled legal drama thats less a courtroom thriller and more a Courage Under Fire or Spotlight-esque search to reveal whats really been going on.

Few actors have Fosters gravitas and ability to exude empathy, something which allows her to deliver lines like these with such power and resonance.

Well, when I defended someone charged with rape, nobody called me a rapist. When I defended someone charged with murder, nobody dug around my backyard. But when someone is accused of terrorism, people like you seem to think that's different. It's not. When I stand by my client and I insist that he get a fair hearing, I'm not just defending him, I'm defending you and me. The constitution doesn't have an asterisk at the end that says: Terms and conditions apply.

The Mauritanian begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on March 24.


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