Mosul (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Their intense personal fight against ISIS in Mosul, Iraq

Netflix film “Mosul”, which was released two days ago, is admirable to some degree but also notably flawed in some aspects. Inspired by Luke Mogelson’s 2017 New Yorker article “The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS”, the movie attempts to give us a close personal viewpoint on the ongoing geopolitical mess in Iraq via a bunch of local military characters, and you may appreciate its considerable attention to its local background and details, but the story itself is flat and insipid from time to time despite a number of vivid and intense moments to remember.

At the beginning, the movie gives us a brief piece of background knowledge on how much Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was ravaged by the battle between ISIS and the allied forces during 2016-2017. Although the battle is eventually coming to the end with the apparent defeat of ISIS while local resistance forces including armed police officers come to take the control over the city step by step, many areas of the city remain to be dangerous warzones, and the opening shot of the movie calmly looks over those ruined buildings and streets as succinctly conveying to us a grim sense of danger hovering over here and there in the city.

And then the movie promptly moves onto a perilous clash between a group of ISIS terrorists and several local police officers who happened to capture a couple of ISIS members. The situation initially looks pretty hopeless for a young police officer named Kawa (Adam Bessa) and a few other police officers who have managed to survive so far, and they soon come to brace themselves for what will be their last stand, but then, what do you know, there comes a bunch of local SWAT guys lead by an ex-cop named Jasem (Suhail Dabbach), who swiftly wipe out those ISIS terrorists within a few minutes.

As already told to us at the beginning, Jasem and his SWAT team guys are quite ruthless just like their opponents in addition to having no qualms on doing whatever is necessary for surviving on the dangerous streets and allies of Mosul day by day. Once they confirm that those two ISIS members held by Kawa and other police officers are on their list, they mercilessly execute them right in front of Kawa’s eyes. Because of their rather fragile status at present, they always need money, arms, bullets, and any other valuable commodities which can be traded with whatever they will need someday, so they do not hesitate at all taking money and some other things from their dead opponents.

Kawa feels awkward and uncomfortable about Jasem and his SWAT team, but then he finds himself being recruited by Jasem because of two reasons which make him qualified for being a new team member. He was injured a bit during that desperate showdown with those ISIS terrorists, and, above all, he lost one of his close family members, who was also a police officer and unfortunately got killed during that showdown. Although he is reluctant at first, Kawa cannot say no to Jasem mainly because he is still very angry about the death of that close family member of his.

We assume that Kawa will function as our surrogate character along the story, and Jasem and his SWAT team members including Waleed (Is’Haq Elias) are willing to teach their new team members a bit, but they never specify to him on their latest mission at all. Along with Kawa, we gradually come to gather that Jasem and his SWAT team have been trying to reach to a certain spot of the city which has been still occupied by ISIS, but the purpose of Jasem and his SWAT team members’ latest mission remains frustratingly vague and elusive, and it is no wonder that Kawa come to lose some of his patience later in the story.

In the meantime, the movie steadily maintains the level of tension around its main characters via a series of tense and gritty moments popping up here and there around them, and director/writer Matthew Michael Carnahan, who has been known mainly for his screenplays for several notable films such as “The Kingdom” (2007), “World War Z” (2013), and “Dark Waters” (2019), did a competent job of presenting these moments with palpable uneasiness and anxiety. At one point, Jasem and his SWAT team members let themselves loosen a bit while watching a TV soap drama from Kuwait, but we can sense that they are still watchful for what may happen around them at any point, so we instantly become nervous when something subsequently happens outside.

Carnahan’s screenplay often falters in character development, and it also feels heavy-handed especially during the scene where Jasem and his SWAT team members encounter another local military group led by an Iranian colonel, but his main cast members often compensate for these and other weak aspects of the film thanks to their good performance. While Adam Bessa holds the ground as your average rookie character, Suhail Dabbach is commendable with his quiet but forceful intensity, and he and the other main cast members including Is’Haq Elias are believable as comrades who have fought together for their common cause for a long time.

Overall, “Mosul”, which is co-produced by Joe and Anthony Rosso, shows some respect and sincerity to its main subjects, and that aspect is clearly reflected by having all of its dialogues delivered in Arabic as well as its authentic casting choices, but it did not engage me enough for its several notable flaws including its weak anti-climactic finale, Yes, it is surely refreshing to see a major American film presenting the ongoing geopolitical problem in Iraq mainly via the viewpoint of local characters, but I wish it could do something more than reminding us again that war is indeed hell.

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