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

2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) arrives in his native country for a wedding. Muhamedu is the pride of the family: he studied in Germany and speaks several European languages. Suddenly, right at the time of the wedding, Mauritanian policemen come for Mohamed. Mohammed goes with them, promising his mother that he will return soon, but he still does not know that he will be able to return only after many years: the Americans suspect Mohammed that he is an associate of bin Laden and that it was he who was one of those who recruited suicide bombers for the 9/11 attacks.

They don’t really bring any charges against him: the Americans only know that the cousin of Mohammed was part of bin Laden’s entourage, that Mohammed received a phone call from the satellite phone of terrorist number one, and they also know that the Mauritanian once went to Afghanistan to the combat area (note that he was on the side of al-Qaeda, which was then supported by the United States). He is required to confess his ties with bin Laden, Mohamedu denies all accusations and as a result ends up in the most terrible American prison – Guantanamo Bay.

Only four years later, the well-known lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) finds out that Mohammed is being held in Guantanamo, and she undertakes to defend him for free: for this, Nancy, along with her assistant and translator Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), goes to Cuba in Guantanamo.

Around the same time, Military Investigator Stuart Coach (Benedict Cumberbatch) is tasked by his superiors to prosecute the 9/11 terrorists in a military tribunal, with his superiors emphasizing that most of them should be executed. Stewart has his own personal motive in all this: his friend was on a plane hijacked during the attacks that flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The coach is handed the case file to Mohamed Ould Slahi, whom the military directly calls the main recruiter of the 9/11 attacks in Germany. Management wants a death sentence for him and wants Stewart to lead the prosecution.


Another film based on a true story. Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a real person, a Mauritanian who was captured by the Americans and spent 14 years in Guantanamo Bay without being charged. In Guantanamo, he was subjected to terrible torture, and, according to lawyer Nancy Hollander, it was US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who ordered to apply “special interrogation methods” to Muhammad.

Muhamedu learned English in prison and began to keep a diary of his time there. He wrote 466 pages by hand. Nancy Hollander handed over the manuscript to journalist Larry Sims for editing, each page of the manuscript was checked by military censors, who blacked out something from there. The book was banned from publication for a long time and was published in 2015 while Muhamedu was still in prison, although in 2009 a court on appeal against Muhamedu ruled that he should be released.

Based on this book, the script for this film was written. By the way, its original name is “Prisoner 760”: this is Muhamedu’s prison number in Guantanamo Bay.

The film was directed by Kevin McDonald – he directed the film “The Last King of Scotland”, was one of the directors of the series “11.22.63”, he, among other things, created several documentary non-fiction films – about the murder of Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich, about Bob Marley and Mike Jagger.

The plot in the painting “Moorish” has three main lines. The line of Muhamed Ould Slahi himself, who fell under the millstones of the state machine, the line of the inflexible lawyer Nancy Hollander (this is also a real person: she was called the “protector of terrorists” in the press), as well as the line of the military prosecutor Stuart Coach.

Mohammed is played by a French actor of Algerian origin, Tahar Rahim: I recently saw him in the TV series “Serpent”, where he very vividly played the famous serial killer, who at the same time had great charisma and easily subordinated people to his will. Here – a completely different character, and Tahar also played him perfectly. Muhamedu, in spite of everything, did not break down in these terrible circumstances: he retains a certain optimism and hopes for the best. And this is not fiction: judging by the documentary footage at the end of the film, how Muhamedu got out of prison, he still remained unbroken, and the real Muhamedu smiles broadly even more often than his screen image. At the same time, there is nothing deliberate and artificial in the smile of the real Mukhamed: this person really went through terrible trials, but he was still not broken.

(Tahar Rahim met with his prototype and said that if it were not for a completely true story, it would be difficult for him to believe that this all happened in reality.)

The picture shows the torture to which he was subjected, but this is done without much naturalism, for which some critics even reproach the director – they say, the reality was much worse. On the one hand, they are right, but on the other hand, it is always very painful to see what human beings can do with their own kind, so the director simply did not pedal this topic, but it is clearly indicated.

And there it is absolutely unequivocally shown that both the lawyer, having learned that Mukhamedu, like, gave a confession, found out that he did it under torture (there were also certain circumstances and threats from the Americans), and Stuart Coach found out the same the most important: there are no real facts, no real accusations against Muhammad, and “confessions” made under torture – they may have somehow passed during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, but in modern society there can be no trust in such “confessions” , this does not work.

Jodie Foster, who appears very infrequently on the screen, played Nancy Hollander perfectly. Purposeful, fearless, self-confident, obsessed with the fact that absolutely everyone has the right to a fair trial, even those whom the military took it into their head to declare a terrorist (and it is completely unknown whether this is really a terrorist or he was appointed as such, as in the case of Muhamedu), – The image is very bright and impressive. Moreover, Foster, as she knows how, plays completely in semitones, showing, as it were, a completely ordinary work of her heroine, but it turned out very cool.

Benedict Cumberbatch has a less important character purely in terms of script, and not much screen time is given to him, but nevertheless, it is well shown here how Stuart, who seemed to be determined to fulfill the requirements of his superiors, however, he carefully studies the documents and comes to the conclusion, that there are simply no real accusations here, and he refuses to accuse Muhamed. Also a good role, although, of course, not as prominent as Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster. Well, I note that Cumberbatch here portrays an American and speaks with such a peculiar “southern” accent: however, it is difficult for me to judge how reliable this sounds.

This film, on the one hand, does not present any revelations. It is unlikely that anyone does not know that the United States in Cuba (so that as far as possible and so that all sorts of journalists and human rights activists do not go there) has a Guantanamo prison, where some people are kept who the special services consider terrorists or involved in terrorism: they are subjected to torture sanctioned by Rumsfeld and Cheney, and these people are held there for years without any charges being brought against them. By the way, the picture clearly states that out of 779 (!) prisoners held there, only eight were charged, and three of them challenged the charge.

This is all well known, it is also well known that in the United States there have been many times demands to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, but not a single US administration has agreed to this – well, of course, “the fight against terrorism.” The real fight against terrorism is, of course, very important and very correct, but what if the special services declare a “terrorist” someone who has nothing to do with it? And this has happened in the United States and is happening more than once, and in other countries, including United States.

What is valuable about this film: it simply shows what happens to such a person. Some military bigwigs demand “someone to be punished for the terrorist attack” – that’s exactly what they want to punish “someone”. Is he guilty or accidentally turned up, due to circumstances, but who cares?

That is what this movie shows. “Switchman”, on whom they want to blame everything and put him in the electric chair. But this “switchman” is a real person who was arrested during his presence at the wedding, and he returned only after 14 years. Moreover, he also spent 7 years in prison under the Obama administration after he was acquitted: well, the special services will not admit that they made a mistake, right?

It’s a good movie: it asks the right questions, it’s well directed, it has great actors. And it is needed, first of all, so that each of us finally understands that any of us can find ourselves in a similar situation. Regardless of nationality and country of residence. The secret services may want to find a “scapegoat” – and they will simply point a finger at him (at you, at me). And our lives will be destroyed.

This is the most important conclusion that we must draw from this film. We also need to understand that the human rights work of people like Nancy Hollander is extremely important! In the States she was called the “protector of terrorists”, many journalists contemptuously call such people “useful idiots” – well, they are also “protectors of terrorists.” But you always need to be able to understand – is this a real terrorist or was he simply appointed as such, pointing at him with the finger of the boss?

Everyone, no matter what they are accused of, should have the right to a fair investigation and a fair trial. I think that’s what this film is about, and I fully support this idea.

And, as usual in such cases, a couple of real photos.

Tahar Rahim and Muhamed Ould Slahi.

Nancy Hollander.

PS For some reason, I didn’t watch “The Prophet” by Jacques Audiard with Takhar Rahim – Takhar became famous after this film. I’ll definitely take a look.

The Mauritanian movie review

Director: Kevin McDonald Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi, Saamer Usmani, Denis Menoche, Corey Johnson

Drama, UK-USA, 2021, 129 min.

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