The Mauritanian

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Mauritanian Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Effective, horrifying drama about Guantanamo Bay prison.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 129 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Makes point that, in a huge, emotionally charged environment such as post-9/11 United States, it's difficult to know what the right thing is. At core of story are messages about dangers of revenge and mob mentality.

Positive Role Models

Nancy Hollander is tough and serious; she pursues what she believes is right, even though she meets with resistance, challenges. Lt. Col. Stuart Couch turns out to be a decent person once he gives up on idea of revenge, starts to realize that there are other wrongs to be righted. After 9/11 attacks, members of U.S. government locked people up without fair trial or even humane treatment, mainly due to anger and emotion. When people tried to stand up for what was right, they were seen as traitors.


A person is tortured. A masked woman climbs on top of a seated male prisoner, tries to force him to have sex with her. Kicking, punching, blood on floor. Bag on person's head; head held underwater. People are forced to hold in "stress positions." Suggestion of water torture. Descriptions and images of prisoners being tortured, kept awake, with loud music. Sleep deprivation. Person with beaten face, cuts on face, bloody wounds, puffy eye. Brief guns and shooting. Injection. Death penalty is mentioned.


All content related to sex is violent in nature; see Violence for details.


Strong, frequent language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "hell," and "scumbag," plus "praise be to God."


McDonald's Filet-O-Fish is mentioned and shown prominently in one scene. (A man sniffs the bag and puts it down, apparently repulsed.) The E! Entertainment network is mentioned and briefly seen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. People drink beer while watching football. More beer-drinking at a holiday party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mauritanian is an intense fact-based drama about Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), who was arrested on flimsy evidence connecting him to the 9/11 attacks and held without being charged in Guantanamo Bay until lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) tried to free him. It has graphic torture-related violence, including a scene involving a masked woman trying to force a male prisoner to have sex with her. It also has punching, kicking, blood, bloody wounds, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and water torture. Language is strong and fairly frequent, with many uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink beer in social situations. It's a bit lifeless, but it gets its point across thanks to fine performances from the stars, including Rahim, Foster, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byPaghetti February 18, 2021

Message in this for Americans

There is a line from this movie that sums up everything: "the word in Arabic for 'free' and 'forgiveness' is the same". This... Continue reading
Parent of a 13 and 18+-year-old Written byAlmahaAA August 12, 2021

Deep, stressful and hurtful, best for adults

A good thing to show how inmates are treated and be aware of others' journeys and how they survived. A bit swearing but no clear sex scenes, some blurry on... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

In THE MAURITANIAN, Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) is taken from his home and eventually winds up imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. He's accused of being one of the architects of the 9/11 attacks but isn't charged. After three years, lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) decides to take his case, and brings along junior associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) as a translator and assistant. Lt. Col. Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), who lost an old Marine buddy on 9/11, is recruited to prosecute Salahi. As all the parties dig into the case, they begin to find corruption running deeper and darker than anyone imagined.

Is it any good?

Based on harrowing true events, this drama has too many moving parts that don't really move much, and it never feels very important or very emotional, but the fine cast at least makes it watchable. Directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September), The Mauritanian feels somewhat similar to Macdonald's other based-on-a-true-story drama, The Last King of Scotland. It's professional and well acted, if rather blandly serious and without much personality. At least it makes Salahi something of a major character, with his own agenda, rather than someone who appears only through the eyes of White characters. And Rahim (best known for the Oscar-nominated French movie A Prophet) is strikingly good.

Foster plays Hollander with no-nonsense energy, having a little fun shooting wry grins at the other characters, who can't believe that she can pull this off. Cumberbatch shows up with a surprising Southern accent, projecting decency and goodness even though he starts the story from a place of revenge and on the "wrong" side. Indeed, The Mauritanian seems to assume that Salahi is innocent -- or at least, even if he's not, that the U.S. government is also guilty. The movie offers some information about the horrific conditions at Gitmo and references to how Hollander and Duncan's work would have made them look like traitors. More of these kinds of elements might have elevated the drama, but as it stands, the movie does just what it needs to do to get its point across.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Mauritanian's violence. Why is torture so hard to watch and hear about? How does it compare to other types of violence you've seen on-screen?

  • What did you learn from this movie? How accurate do you think it is compared to what happened? What things do you think might have been changed to make it more dramatic?

  • Do you consider Nancy a role model? What are her strengths and weaknesses?

  • What effects did 9/11 have on Americans and their attitude toward people from other countries and cultures? Have things changed since the attacks?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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