Synopsis – A police unit from Mosul fight to liberate the Iraqi city from thousands of ISIS militants.
My Take – At this point I think it is literally impossible to take a count of the number of films produced focusing on the American war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Films which paint them as the saviors and the supposedly gun toting residents as the villains.
However what immediately separates this Russo Brothers production from similar productions, other than the fact that it employs an entirely Arab cast and is mostly in Arabic, is that it doesn’t center on Americans soldiers, but instead focuses on a team of Iraqi soldiers head on fighting to liberate their home from ISIS (or Daesh), using their skills and strategy, without seeking any form of help from American characters. Resulting in a film, that is a welcome, fresh addition to Netflix‘s burgeoning catalogue of foreign language films.
Helmed by first time director Matthew Michael Carnahan, writer of films The Kingdom, World War Z, Dark Waters, 21 Bridges, and Deepwater Horizon, and adapted from a 2017 New Yorker article by journalist Luke Mogelson, the film is filled with non-stop action with guns blazing, bullets flying in all directions, and big bangs of grenades, akin to the Russo‘s previous Netflix venture Extraction.
Sure, it is not going to go down as a classic of the genre, but is without a doubt a capable, well-produced film that certainly deserves to be told on screen mainly for its distinctly Iraqi take on the war against ISIS.
Unfolding over the course of a single day in the city of Mosul, the story follows Kawa (Adam Bessa), a rookie Police Officer, who along with his partner finds himself cornered during a shootout with a couple of ISIS militants who have been controlling half the city, in a battle raging for months. That is until, he is saved by the local Nineveh SWAT team led by the charismatic Major Jasem (Suhail Dabbach).
Acknowledging the fact that Kawa boldly stood his ground, Jasem immediately offers to deputize him into his team, and to join them to take the fight to the increasingly desperate ISIS forces who have caused so much misery. Along the way they face car bombs, endlessly lose colleagues, find themselves battling in cramped backstreet alleyways and as the day goes on, the fresh faced Kawa begins to question everything while going through a brutal baptism of fire.
Director Carnahan‘s film is made with urgency, in a way that’s always clearly rendered, and not dependent on shaky-cam techniques, making you feel as if you’ve been dropped into a war zone with no way out except forward. At first glance, this one might seem like ready to follow its standard formula that is until it surprises by focusing on a perspective we rarely see.
This a violent and unrelenting film with some grim depictions of urban warfare. The opening close quartered gun battle is a hectic set piece and if the sound is turned up enough, you can almost picture what being in a real life shoot out would be like. The sweaty palmed fear, the life or death decisions that are made in split seconds, and it only increases as the film goes on.
The film never holds back on the action, the street war scenarios are relentless and raw throughout, never letting us take a breath from what we are seeing, using the environment to add to the sequences, with the city truly looking like we are in one of the most war-torn cities in the world. This will be an eye-opener for anyone who has turned their head to the conflict, as we will learn just want it means to the men desperately fighting for their people’s freedom.
Sure, so much happens that it starts to become unbelievable that this could all happen in a single day, especially when it draws to a close and there’s still no sign of the sun setting. Plus, aside from Kawa, Jasem and the squad’s second-in-command Waleed (Is’haq Elias), none of the other characters get much time to develop. They drop like flies throughout and they’ve had so little screen-time that each casualty just looks like another bullet riddled body.
But these are people fighting for their homeland and aching for some kind of peace in the midst of all this bloodshed. People who may not remember what it was like to live in a world without barbaric oppressors, but are still brave enough to believe that world can exist someday. There are also some moments of genuine heartbreak, especially a scene involving a pair of brothers.
Rather than making the physical aspect of warfare the main focal point, the film instead chooses to put a spotlight on what it really means to live in a constant state of fear and fury. What it takes to reclaim one’s home and rebuild a broken world. What the cost of all that is. The fight for freedom is unflinchingly ugly and merciless, but there may very well be some actual freedom by the end of this battle.
Though the film doesn’t nail all its themes and messaging with total grace, but it balances a real sense of humanity with even its most violent moments, and that’s why it works.
The film is further elevated by its performances. Adam Bessa is certainly a newcomer worth keeping an eye on, and though he is framed as the lead and certainly does a great job, especially towards the end, the standout here is definitely Iraqi-American Suhail Dabbach. Dabbach is so convincing in his role that it is easy to forget you’re watching a dramatization of a true story. His soulful performance is what helps makes the film truly memorable. In other roles, Is’haq Elias, Hayat Kamille, Thaer Al-Shayei and Waleed Elgadi are also very good. On the whole, ‘Mosul’ is a gritty intense action film with a lot of heart that deserves a watch for its unique perspective.
Directed – Matthew Michael Carnahan
Rated – R
Run Time – 101 minutes