Archive for the ‘Kevin Macdonald’ Category

Surrounded by Wolves

The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Denis Menochet, Benedict Cumberbatch, Clayton Boyd, Langley Kirkwood

The Last King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald tackles a divisive subject in his latest film, The Mauritanian, which focuses on the mistreatment of inmates at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba run by the Americans post 9/11 for the rendition, capture and torture of suspected terrorists linked to the Twin Towers attack in New York in September 2001. 

The Mauritanian was shot in the Western Cape, South Africa in 2019 and features an international cast including French actor Tahar Rahim as the unfortunate prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Rahim’s performance is superb, displaying a levity which conceals the horrific torture that Slahi endured included waterboarding and psychological torture.

To add some significance to the cast, is another brilliant performance by two time Oscar winner Jodie Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) as the hard-edged defence attorney Nancy Hollander who is joined by her young assistant Teri Duncan played by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Fault in my Stars) to build a case for Slahi’s release.

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) plays American military prosecutor Stuart Couch who is meant to convict Mohemedou Ould Slahi of colluding with the 9/11 terrorists in Germany back when he was living there. Couch’s prosecution rests on the assumption that Slahi is definitely guilty until all the redacted files on his capture and initial confession are released as privileged information for both sides of the law.

Told in a series of flashbacks to Slahi’s childhood in Mauritania which is a North West African country located at the edge of the Sahara Desert, The Mauritanian is a fascinating true story of one man’s wrongful detention and the years it took through justifiable legal processes to release him from Guantanamo Bay.

As a film based on a real life event, director Kevin Macdonald tends to over-emphasize the torture scenes, which are numerous and disturbing and under-emphasizes the American political climate in which the legal case was being conducted in.

Audiences must remember that The Mauritanian is a British film, which justifies the inexplicable casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as a quintessential American complete with a Southern accent. What holds this film together are the two diametrically opposed performances of Jodie Foster as defence lawyer Nancy Hollander and the outstanding Tahar Rahim as the client, Mohemedou Ould Slahi, a foreigner trapped in a strange prison which is above the law, basically a victim surrounded by wolves.

The script for The Mauritanian was not brilliant and the film could have been edited extensively, which explains the reason this BBC film missed the cut at the 2021 Oscar nominations.

The Mauritanian gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth watching but comes with a warning of some disturbing torture scenes.

Honour Beyond Hadrians Wall

The Eagle

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In the 1st Century AD, the Roman Empire extended into southern Britain and up to the borders of Scotland. The Eagle directed by Kevin Macdonald who brought us the impressively brilliant Oscar winning Last King of Scotland, stars a surprisingly capable Channing Tatum along with Jamie Bell is an engaging period tale about this expansionist phase of the Roman Empire and its stronghold in Britain.

Tatum, who has come a long way as an actor from Step Up to play Marcus Aquila, a Roman lieutenant who goes to the then savage lands of Britain and extend the rule of the Roman Empire and regain the lost standard with the assistance of his all too savvy slave Esca. Twenty years earlier a standard, a gold eagle was lost in the Scottish highlands, by a Roman legion said to be slain by the savage tribes that inhabited the north beyond Hadrian’s Wall, a fortification erected in 122 AD along the North of England, also used as a means of taxation for those caught within the realms of the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Wall was one of the most heavily fortified border in the entire Empire, separating Roman controlled Britain with the wild Scottish Highlands.

That legion was lead by Marcus Aquila’s father and the tale of the lost gold standard has haunted Marcus Aquila and tainted his family’s honour. Marcus after sustaining a leg injury in a battle with local Druids is sent to recover at his Uncle’s villa in Southern Britain, who is guided by his more cautious relative, a wonderful cameo by the veteran actor Donald Sutherland. Near his uncle’s villa, Marcus saves the life of Esca in a primitive battle with a second rate gladiator and Esca, in a superb and wry performance by Jamie Bell who has also filled out considerably since his debut in the hit ballet film Billy Elliot, becomes Marcus’s slave but also his able-bodied companion.

In a bid to search for the lost Eagle, the gold standard, Marcus and Esca embark on a treacherous journey beyond the boundaries of the known world or the Roman world that is and there the colonizer becomes the colonized by the savage and ruthless seal tribe. In order to survive Esca makes Marcus his slave in the face of the savage tribe who have taken the gold standard as their own, a glorified object to be worship in pagan rituals. Although not entirely historically accurate, The Eagle is very engaging ethnographically recreating a world of Britain centuries before William the Conqueror invaded the island in 1066, displaying a barbaric land inhabited by various druid and Celtic tribes who were adverse to their Roman colonizers seizing their land especially those in ancient Scotland.

The Eagle is about men conquering other men through violence and colonization, about honour lost and dignity regained. It’s a male bonding journey about a master and servant who through their journey beyond Hadrian’s Wall help each other gain both honour, respect and freedom.

While all this sounds vaguely homoerotic, it certainly is. Especially with Channing Tatum as the muscular and brawny Marcus being assisted by the instinct driven and supple Esca, as they battle savage tribes, their own repressed longings for each other and their respective dead fathers is played out in a bitterly cold and vicious but breathtaking landscape of Scotland, a land well beyond the borders of the Roman Empire and beautifully captured by director Kevin Macdonald, showing his passion for his native Scotland.

The Eagle does not fare as well as Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Gladiator, but with all the sword fighting, bloodletting and adventure is well worth watching if not for a peek into a little documented epoch of the Roman conquest of Britain before the realm of monarchy and the equally savage rules of subsequent Kings and Queens from the despotic Richard III to Henry VIII, from the victorious Elizabeth I to Victoria. Like all magnificent and faded empires, both Roman and British alike, have suffered their decline by the infiltration of barbarians and the inability to keep such a vast colonial Empire eternally fortified.

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