The Mauritanian Movie Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

«Mauritanec» / The Mauritanian

Drama genre
Directed by Kevin McDonald
Cast Tahar Rahim (Mohamedu Ould Slakhy), Jodie Foster (Nancy Holander), Benedict Cumberbatch (Stuart Coach), Shailene Woodley (Teri Duncan), Zachary Levi (Neil Buckland), Francis Chowler (journalist) and others.
Wonder Street Studios, 30WEST, BBC Films
Release year 2021
Site IMDb

The film takes place after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At a time when Americans were recovering from the tragedy, the US government launched a series of covert operations to detain persons suspected of organizing or carrying out acts of terrorism.

The prisoners were taken to Cuba, where the US military base was located in Guantanamo Bay. The place where dangerous criminals were kept is known as the Guantanamo Bay prison – it was this name that eventually became associated with the use of torture, as well as with numerous violations of human rights. The situation around the prison caused more and more discussions when it turned out that no significant evidence had been collected to prove the guilt of some prisoners. (By the way, the film The Road to Guantanamo, released in 2006, was also devoted to this topic.)

The screenplay for the British-American film The Mauritanian was based on the memoirs of a man named Mohamedou Ould Slahi. He is a Mauritanian who went to live in Germany on a scholarship to study engineering. There, Slakhs did not issue a residence permit, so he returned to his homeland. After the events of September 11, the CIA, with the help of local police, placed him in custody, after which Mohamed was secretly transported to Guantanamo Bay. As it turned out, he was suspected of having links with al-Qaeda, as well as recruiting for a terrorist act in Hamburg.

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The memoirs were not the only documentary source for the making of the film. Two additional lines have also been added to the script, which play an extremely important role in the development of the story. They are based on the actions of attorney Nancy Holander (played by Jodie Foster) as well as the allegations of military prosecutor Stuart Coach (Benedict Cumberbatch) – both characters based on real people whose actions influenced how the world learned about the high-profile case of the Mauritanian.

Due to the abundance of details and facts, The Mauritanian may at first seem like a boring lawyer drama, but the final perception of the tape will be different. The picture is based on general data, gradually revealing the condition of a man who was taken into custody without charge. Wrongful imprisonment catches the attention of the character Jodie Foster: the actress plays a staunch supporter of the law, a firm believer in the integrity of the person and the presumption of innocence.

Just to imagine that after the September 11 attacks, someone dared to take up the protection of a criminal who may well turn out to be a real terrorist – this decision literally borders on insanity. But the real-life Nancy Holander did exactly that, and Jodie Foster convincingly conveyed her character’s principled determination (for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Supporting Actress category).

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But the character of Benedict Cumberbatch, guided by morality and personal loss, is determined to bring the prosecution to death. At first, he secretly represents everyone who wants justice, but over time he notices gaps in his investigation. The evidence he needs for the trial is either missing or sealed with secrecy.

The filmmakers are in no hurry to reveal what exactly the US authorities were hiding by censoring reports detailing the interrogations of Mohamedo Ould Slahi. We come to this point gradually, hardly doubting the innocence of the prisoner, and seeing how he opens up to his lawyer (Slachy passed letters, giving details about the conclusion). Word by word, he reveals his story, which we see in the format of square frames that clearly separate events from the past and the present.

In any given time frame, what speaks most about Slakhy’s character is Tahar Raheem’s calm performance, who does not go to extremes and slowly paints a portrait of a weary prisoner (Raheem is nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of best actor in a drama film).

It is quite noticeable that the creators of The Mauritanian sympathize with their hero, so at some point they insert real shots of Mohamed Ould Slahi smiling, supplementing them with information about how his imprisonment ended. The undisguised favor to the protagonist looks like a public apology for war crimes, which is brought not by politicians, but by filmmakers. This can be treated differently, but based on the viewer’s experience, this is the format of the film adaptation of a real story that remains in memory thanks to the final scenes.

Pros: cast; a resonant case that became the basis of the script; lines of three characters that gradually lead to what was classified in the case of the prisoner Cons: the creators of the picture quite clearly sympathize with the main character Conclusion:

adaptation of the real story of a prisoner who ended up in a secret prison. The film apologizes for the mistakes of the military and says that everyone has the right to a trial.

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