(director: Kevin Macdonald; screenwriters: based on the NY Times best-selling memoir (2015) “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi/M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani; cinematographer: Alwin H. Küchler; editor: Justine Wright; music: Tom Hodge; cast:  Tahar Rahim (Mohamedou Ould Slahi), Jodie Foster (Nancy Hollander), Benedict Cumberbatch (Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch), Shailene Woodley (Teri Duncan), Zachary Levi (Neil Buckland), Saamer Usmani (Arjun), David Fynn (Kent), Matthew Marsh (General Mandel), Langley Kirkwood (Sgt. Sands), Corey Johnson (Col. Seidel); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Adam Ackland, Leah Clarke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lloyd Levin, Beatriz Levin, Mark Holder; BBC Films/STX Films; 2021-UK/USA-French, Arabic, English, with English subtitles if needed)

A disappointing political drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A disappointing political drama directed by Kevin Macdonald (“Black Sea”/”The Last King of Scotland”) that’s based on the 2015 NY Times best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. The writers M.B. Traven (Michael Bronner is his real name), Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani make the true imprisonment story into a bore, filled with dull speeches. It chronicles the inhumanity of the incarceration in Guantanamo (at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba) and the torturous interrogation of the German-educated electrical engineer Mohamedou Slahi (Tahar Rahim, French-Algerian actor). He’s a Mauritanian citizen, suspected of recruiting the al-Qaeda hijackers who participated in the 9/11 World Trade Center mission. He spent 14 years in prison without being charged with any crime.

Slahi’s maintains his innocence throughout the procedure. Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), an ACLU lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, believes him without any reservations and takes his case ‘pro bono’, aided by her inept junior associate, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). As a result, he eventually becomes the first detainee to sue the government, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Since the prison, called Gitmo, was built out of the reach of the court in the States, the USA operatives prevented a fair process (which is a shame on them), even though the prosecutor Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) and defense lawyer Hollander were both determined to have a fair trial.

The story, filmed as a legal procedural one, mostly shows the efforts of the defense lawyer to obtain a hearing for Slahi so he can thereby optimistically win his release. It’s filled with flashbacks, of looking through various documents and of leaving the viewer unsure of whether or not the subject’s a bad guy. Though the filmmaker believes he’s innocent, and the way he was treated makes a mockery of our justice system.

Here are some facts this well-intentioned, well-researched and well-acted film lays on us: “Mohamedou Ould Slahi was released in October, 2016, after 14 years (in a captivating ending), there are 40 others still being held without trial in Guantanamo and no U.S. government agency has ever admitted any responsibility or apology.

It seems as if everything political America touches these days it screws up.

I found investing so much time on a film covering such a dark chapter in American history with not too many answers or explanations for America’s sad conduct over human rights violations, was not the wisest investment in movie viewing I ever made. 

The film’s truth reveals that the trials at Guantánamo are a bad joke, but the film is rigid, lacks a dramatic clout and is not a good one even if it delivers a vital message.

Tahar RahimJodie and Foster in
        “The Mauritanian.”