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'The Mauritanian' cast, plot and all you need to know about the Jodie Foster film

Jodie Foster opening the door to freedom in The Mauritanian.
Jodie Foster opening the door to freedom in The Mauritanian. (Image credit: TM Films)

A compelling and shocking true story comes to the screen in The Mauritanian (read our full review), starring Hollywood legend Jodie Foster as a determined lawyer and The Serpent’s Tahar Rahim as a wrongly accused terrorist suspect imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years without charge.

The Mauritanian release date on Amazon Prime

The Mauritanian was released in theaters in the US on February 12, 2021. An on-demand release followed on March 2, 2021. You can rent it on a whole range of digital storefronts including Amazon, Apple TV, and YouTube.

The Mauritanian will be available to stream in the UK on Amazon Prime from Thursday April 1, 2021.

Setting the scene for The Mauritanian

When Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) volunteers to defend Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi in The Mauritanian her main concern isn’t whether he’s innocent or guilty, only that he gets a fair trial. 

Meanwhile, patriotic Lt Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) agrees to lead the case for the prosecution. What unfolds is the shocking true story of a man held without charge in US military base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for over 14 years…

The man at the centre of the case is Mohamedou Ould Salahi  (Tahar Rahim). He is accused of being a key recruiter for 9/11.

"What Mohamedou has lived I think so many of us couldn’t even imagine that we could ever survive it. Tahar is an extraordinary actor. He transforms completely and you don’t really see any acting at all."

Jodie Foster

The timeline explored in The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian opens two months after the 9/11 terror attacks. 

As the US seeks justice against those involved, engineer Mohamedou Ould Salahi is seized by authorities in his home country of Mauritania, in north west Africa.

Accused of being a key recruiter for the deadly al-Qaeda attack, he is taken to Guantanamo Bay, the US’s military detention centre in Cuba, and subjected to brutal interrogation and torture as investigators try to force him into making a confession.

In 2005, his situation comes to the attention of defence lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), who volunteers to represent Mohamedou in court and prove the US government lacks evidence to detain him.

The case brings Nancy up against patriotic former pilot Lt Colonel Stuart Couch (Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch) the government’s military prosecutor who lost a close personal friend when hijacked planes flew into New York’s World Trade Center. 

While Stuart is building a watertight case, Nancy and her associate Teri Duncan (Big Little Lies’ Shailene Woodley) face the almost impossible task of getting access to Mohamedou’s heavily censored files, as well as  gaining his trust during visits to Guantanamo. 

Mohamedou's harrowing experiences during his detainment are gradually revealed in flashbacks.

Tahar Rahim as Mohamedou Ould Salahi in The Mauritanian.

Tahar Rahim as Mohamedou Ould Salahi. (Image credit: TM Films)

"Stuart is a military lawyer who has every reason to want to persecute the perpetrator of that unforgivable act of terrorism. But he discovers Mohamedou’s confessions have been extracted by torture."

Benedict Cumberbatch

Who’s who in The Mauritanian

Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster)

The experienced, no nonsense defence lawyer is driven by the belief everyone deserves a trial, even "high-value" Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou. Although skeptical of his innocence initially, Nancy campaigns tirelessly for Mohamedou’s right to a trail, and later for his release.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim)

Imprisoned indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, intelligent, charming engineer Mohamedou has links to al-Qaeda. Although wary of his lawyers, he agrees to their help and begins a long road to freedom.

Lt Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Prosecuting 9/11 terrorists is personal for upstanding Christian military man Stuart — his close friend Bruce was killed in the terror attack. Determined to to bring a watertight case to court, he uncovers shocking breaches of human rights…

Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley)

Inexperienced lawyer Teri is disarmed by Mohamedou and instantly believes him innocent — until she reads his confession. Already ostracised by her family for being a "terrorist lawyer" will she quit the case?

Neil Buckland (Zachary Levi)

Stuart’s pal’s name turns up on official reports linked to Mohamedou. Neil is both a gatekeeper and the key to the truth. Can Stuart persuade him to disclose what he knows?

Kent (David Flynn)

At the office for sensitive material in Virginia, government official "Kent" gives Nancy and Teri access to classified documents. The problem is, they’re almost entirely redacted.

The Mauritanian awards and nominations

Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald The Mauritanian has been nominated for a number of awards at the upcoming BAFTAs. The film is in the running for Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Outstanding British Film of the Year and Best Cinematography. Star Tahar Rahim has also been nominated for Best Leading Actor. 

Jodie Foster was awarded with a Golden Globe earlier this year for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. She accepted the gong via Zoom, dressed in her pyjamas with her dog in a matching bow tie, with wife Alexsandra Hedison by her side.

What stars have to say about the movie

Jodie Foster
Oscar winning actress (The Silence of the Lambs, The Accused) and celebrated film director (Little Man Tate) Jodie Foster, 58, has won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Nancy Hollander.

On Nancy Hollander...
"Nancy feels like it's her mission and her duty to uphold the Constitution and that everybody deserves a defence." 

On reading the script...
"I read the script in one sitting and couldn’t believe it. We all vaguely know a little bit about Guantanamo — the fact that it's still up and running and it shouldn't be, and that there were a lot of detainees there after 9/11, subsequently, almost all of them released without any charges. I think we were all so shaken up by the events of 9/11 that we didn’t think very much about who was being interned."
On what viewers can expect...
"The Mauritanian is an emotional film about what Mohamedou went through."

Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley in The Mauritanian

Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley in The Mauritanian. (Image credit: TM Films)

Benedict Cumberbatch
His production company co-made the film. Before filming he met the real Stuart Couch and worked with two dialect coaches to help him master his character’s Deep South accent. Benedict, 44, also borrowed Couch’s Marine Corps gold wings to wear while filming, and spent hours in makeup each day to create his clean-cut military look.

On the accent...
"I worked on his accent for a while, so I was pleased when Stuart finally heard it and said I was spot on."

On hidden preparations for the role...
"I’d just signed up for a film called The Power of the Dog which required me to grow my hair long. So, for me to play Stuart, the prosthetics team came up with a bald cap with a crew cut on top. So, when you see me on screen, under all of that is this huge lump of my own hair."

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Mauritanian as Lt Colonel Stuart Couch

Voicing his concerns. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Lt Colonel Stuart Couch. (Image credit: TM Films)

Tahar Rahim
2021 has already been quite a year for French actor Tahar Rahim, 39. After critical acclaim for his performance as charismatic serial killer Charles Sobhraj in BBC1 drama The Serpent, and he’s now up for a Best Actor BAFTA for portraying real-life Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi in The Mauritanian.

On taking the role...
"I read the script and cried twice. I couldn’t believe that this guy had been through hell and didn’t hold a grudge against anyone. He’s a hero, an innocent man imprisoned and tortured. It’s an amazing story that has to be told."

On preparing for filming...
"I wanted to get as close as possible to the real conditions so I asked the production team to make me real shackles and make the cell as cold as possible. I also put myself on a drastic diet and lost 10-12 kilos in a short amount of time. It was a very tough shoot but I wanted to experience what it felt like to be treated this way."

On meeting Mohamedou...
"I hugged him. This guy in front of you is talking about what he’s been through, with a big smile. His forgiveness is what makes him so special. He has the right to be angry, but he’s not."

Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster in Amazon Prime's The Mauritanian

Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster in The Mauritanian. (Image credit: TM Films)
Origins of The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian is based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s New York Times best-selling memoir Guantánamo Diary.