The Mauritanian

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rating: R for violence and language.

Where: Wide release.

Two people work toward the same conclusion, from opposite sides of an issue, in the fact-based legal drama "The Mauritanian."

The title character is Mohamedou (Tahar Rahim, from "A Prophet"), who is arrested and disappears in Guantanamo prison. He's suspected of being a mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, but when he finally gets lawyers (Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley), they argue there's no evidence. A U.S. military prosecutor (Benedict Cumberbatch) also begins to doubt his case.

Kevin Macdonald, whose best film is the Oscar-winning documentary "One Day in September," gives the movie the detached, observational feel of a classic doc. The focus is on the case rather than the people, who remain shadowy figures. Maybe a little too shadowy? Foster's attorney is dismissive and condescending, both of which the actor can do in her sleep, but she's meant to have a brash, outsized personality that Foster doesn't quite manage. And, although it's smart to pair her with a naive attorney (Woodley), it defies credibility that the younger lawyer hasn't even considered that her client might be guilty.

The story is compelling, though. Mohamedou is a tricky character, since we only get glimpses of him and he makes a lot of mistakes, but Rahim invests him with integrity and courage during the eight years he awaits trial. The lawyers can argue that the only thing that's important is the merit of the case but Rahim helps us see beyond the legalities to the humanity of the Mauritanian.

Chris Hewitt