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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Kevin Macdonald
scr MB Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
prd Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Bronner, Adam Ackland
with Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi, David Fynn, Alaa Safi, Andre Jacobs, Matthew Marsh, Langley Kirkwood, Corey Johnson, Meena Rayann
release US 19.Feb.21,
21/UK BBC 2h05
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This powerful film's true story unfolds in a way that digs much deeper than the political issues involved, taking a personal look at the moral imperative to seek the truth. Finely directed by Kevin Macdonald, it also features devastating performances from its central cast, each of whom finds layers of connection with the audience. It's a movie that gets under the skin, changing the way we see the world.
In November 2001, US forces grab Mohamedou (Rahim) from his home in Mauritania and spirit him to a series of shadow prisons, ending up in Guantanamo. Without real evidence, officials are convinced that plotted the 9/11 attacks, and they assign emotionally invested prosecutor Stu (Cumberbatch) to get him the death penalty. New Mexico defender Nancy (Foster) takes Mohamedou's case, travelling to Cuba with her assistant Teri (Woodley). But getting their hands on the government files is a challenge, so they ask Mohamedou to write his account in detail. And his treatment has been horrifying.
The story is told largely through Mohamedou's eyes (it's based on his memoir), which gives the film a firsthand kick. And each of the surrounding characters has an unusual complexity as they are pushed to ignore facts and pursue justice for victims of an atrocity. This leads Nancy, Stu and Teri to their own points of conflict when each must take unexpected action because it's the right thing to do. Even this isn't simplified, reflecting people who have a driving desire to isolate facts in a seriously messy situation.
Rahim gives a blistering performance that exposes Mohamedou's soul. It's staggering to watch him quietly observe his surroundings, interact with another inmate (Safi) he can't even see, long for his family back home and, most notably, confront a failing judicial system he always looked up to. Rahim's scenes with Foster are electric, as both actors find potent unspoken connections. And both Cumberbatch and Woodley also deliver introspective performances full of surprises.
Macdonald never flinches from hideous things like torture, concealed evidence and inhumane treatment, but he thankfully never wallows in them, allowing earthy humour to emerge within even the bleakest scenes. This means that while the topic is painful to explore, the film is always engaging, entertaining and emotionally resonant. The trial sequence centres on Mohamedou's astounding testimony, which is basically all that needs to be said. And there are more gut-punches in several screens of wrap-up text and some gorgeous real-life footage.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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