If you hadn’t heard of Moorish before Jodie Foster unexpectedly won the Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress, you weren’t alone, I was there with you. The film, based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s memoir, Guantanamo Diary, was up to its premiere on Amazon Prime at 1. April only available at full price. Despite his star status, he has remained under the radar of the awards.

This movie is worth talking about.

The film follows the judicial trajectory of Salahi (Tahar Rahim), who was arrested after the 9/11 attacks and held in Guantanamo Bay prison without charge. Her legal team, played by Foster and Shailene Woodley, fights mistrust, works through secrets and confronts the US government (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to uncover the truth and get justice for Salahi.

Like any historical drama, The Moor sheds light on our collective past, however unflattering and shameful it may be. However, these particular circumstances appear to be part of an ongoing national dialogue on the use of weapons and the abuse of power by those we trust.

In a scene, Salahi says: When I arrived at Guantanamo, I was happy because I trusted the American legal system. I never imagined that I would be imprisoned for eight years without trial and that the United States of America would use fear and terror to control me. As our country struggles with power within our borders and the racist abuse of power against black Americans at home, it is helpful to widen the lens to remind ourselves of the war crimes our country is currently committing around the world and the real lives of those affected by them. Any opportunity to look critically at our past is a good one, and this film contains no truth in its story.

The evidence of a great film

The best part of the film was the use of narrative juxtapositions to give power and meaning to the story. At least you felt it. Le Mauritanien can be broken down into two acts, and although the film is two hours long, this first act occupies most of the film’s running time. The first act presents the story as a courtroom drama: Both sides seek their version of the truth and prepare for a battle of evidence and affidavits. The real truth here remains unclear. The evidence is hidden from us, just as it is hidden from the lawyers. Raheem balances wonderfully as Salahi, who is both charming and opaque, never revealing whether he is our protagonist or actually guilty of these atrocities.

In the second act – the 30 minutes of the film – the emotion diminishes as the viewer sees the real events that happened to Salahi behind the closed doors of Guantanamo Bay. What felt like A Few Good Men suddenly felt like Hostel – a torture made real, a graphic representation of truth presented in visceral detail through the lens of a fever dream. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, especially after all the bureaucracy of the previous hour and a half. And his message is clear: The greatest trick of power is to hide its misdeeds behind banality.

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But can we cover these parts?

Unfortunately, it’s not just the bureaucracy that slows down the first 90 minutes. Raheem’s strong leading role is admirably supported by Foster’s role as defense attorney Nancy Hollander, but we’ve already seen her steely, confident approach to a strong woman and her no-nonsense attitude. I think if this role had been played by someone less popular, we wouldn’t even be talking about this movie. We’ve seen what Foster can do with a better script, and while it’s always a pleasure to see her at work, her Golden Globe win left me hoping for something more.

But then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch, who is so dismissive as the southern military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch that you walk out of the movie every time he opens his mouth and an attempted southern accent appears. There are actors who are outstanding at what they do, and they bring a different and better version of themselves in each role. One of those actors is Cumberbatch, who, if I remember correctly, took me out of the last quarter of 1917 with a completely unnecessary cameo. His production records at Moorish might shed some light on why he’s here. But his performance – narratively one-dimensional and totally inconsistent – doesn’t benefit the film. (Side note: Shailene Woodley too, but did she ever stand out in anything? Sorry, my apologies to fans of Divergent: Allegiant).

Another element worth noting is the extensive use of flashbacks in the film, not only to various moments of Salahi’s imprisonment, but also to moments in his life that preceded his capture. The director (Kevin MacDonald) feels the need to explicitly distinguish these scenes from today’s by adjusting the picture quality and aspect ratio – a decision I could understand if it served a greater purpose. There’s a sense that viewers don’t know the difference between the past and the present.

End of sentence

Mauritanian feels like a participant in The Report (2019), another film about American torture policy and the horrors we hide behind edited text. The film also manages to convey its message powerfully, despite uneven acting and sloppy direction. While there are notable moments, the film never rises above the level of a decent courtroom drama. But now that it’s becoming more accessible, it’s definitely worth a look. Because, as the film says, it’s one thing to read a glossy synopsis.

It’s something else entirely to look at the big picture.

Follow @MovieBabble_ and Jack Edgar @JedgarAllenPoe on Twitter.

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