Mosul (film streaming on Netflix); Cast: Adam Bessa, Suhail Dabbach, Is’haq Elias, Qutaiba Abdelhaq, Ahmed El Ghanem; Direction: Matthew Michael Carnahan; Rating: * * * and 1/2 (three and a half stars)
BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
Avengers director duo Joe and Anthony Russo have produced an action film which is quite an antithesis of the fantasy-loaded superhero razzmatazz that has come to be their calling card. Mosul is gritty war drama that remains tantalisingly close to the reality it is carved from. The film is deftly executed, and comes with an important socio-political message about war and its aftermath.
Debutant director Matthew Michael Carnahan, who has also penned the film, focusses on an aspect of war-torn Iraq that is normally not a point of interest for Hollywood. Inspired by a New Yorker article titled The Desperate Battle To Destroy ISIS, the filmmaker trains his lens on an Iraqi SWAT team’s action against ISIS, duly dramatised to capture some remarkable war violence in the film’s 100-odd-minute runtime.
Around the mid to late 2010s, Mosul, one of Iraq’s biggest cities, was overrun by ISIS. The organisation, known as Daesh in Iraq, unleashed years of rape, torture and murder, a title card informs us at the start.
The film begins at a time the violence in Mosul is ebbing and the Nineveh province’s SWAT unit, comprising local men who have been directly or indirectly affected by the scourge of ISIS, is on a final mission.
The story begins with the SWAT team rescuing a young Iraqi police officer named Kawa (Adam Bessa), whose uncle was killed by ISIS. Kawa is offered a place by Major Jasem (Suhail Dabbach) in the SWAT team, which wages its war relentlessly, driven solely by revenge against ISIS atrocities on their people.
The film has been shot (Mauro Fiore) and edited (Alexandro Rodriguez) to create a sense of urgency even in the poignant moments, and in a way that it takes us right into the thick of action. It is a cinematic treatment that allows us to get as close as possible to the soldiers, physically as well as emotionally.
Carnahan’s writing is one of the strong points of the hardhitting narrative. There is an attempt to understand the protagonists beyond being war machines, as human beings. While such attempts have been commonplace in Hollywood while dissecting American soldiers in various combat situations, Mosul is a rare attempt that uses such a perspective to try and understand a bunch of soldiers who belong to a nation that the US has deemed its enemy state.
Adeptly narrated and subtle in the comment it leaves, Mosul is a war film with its heart and mind in the right place. Aided by a cast in fine form (Suhail Dabbach’s Major Jasem is an award-worthy act), the engrossing film imparts its message of nationalism without ever falling into the trap of jingoism.