Kevin Macdonald, who makes documentaries and docudramas that usually have a political bent (The Last King of Scotland, How I Live Now, State of Play), now turns a harsh eye on one of America’s darkest open secrets: the post-9/11 detention without charge and brutal torture of inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison, conveniently located in Cuba, outside the U.S. and its legal protections. Granted, most of those held there are probably guilty. But some are not and have little legal recourse. 

This military legal procedural is the true story of one such maybe-not-guilty man, Mohamedou Ould Slahi. After languishing for years without charges or trial, he attracts the pro-bono attention of high-powered liberal lawyer Nancy Hollander, who with the help of formidable but morally conflicted prosecuting attorney Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, digs deep and uncovers a far-reaching conspiracy.

Jodie Foster, still razor-sharp pushing 60, is a natural as Hollander, and Benedict Cumberbatch again impresses as Couch, this time affecting a dead-on southern US drawl. But the reason to catch this one is the magnetic, layered and deeply moving performance by French actor Tahar Rahim in the title role. It’s simply astounding. 

Of the purgatorial pit known as Gitmo, it should be mentioned that although this blot on “American justice” was conceived by those three paragons of humanity, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, Obama failed to keep his promise to close it and it still operates today. It’s a messy subject, to say the least, but Macdonald gets it mostly right. Thing is, The Mauritanian should have been made several years ago. (129 min)