Based on the 2017 New Yorker article, “The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS” Mosul has the feel and looks of a Hollywood blockbuster, and those sitting down to their Netflix queue may mistake the film for another military-themed action thriller offering that the streaming service has pumped out across out in recent years. However Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction and Ryan Reynolds’ 6 Underground this is not.
Despite being directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan the writer of Deepwater Horizon, World War Z and 21 Bridges, Mosul may have the premise of an action film but it’s more than that. The film is a meaningful look at the city itself through the lens of an older fatigued, scarred group of men all who have lost loved ones at the hands of the so-called caliphate. Mosul, which is named after an Iraqi city, follows Iraqi characters and actors, also dared to be completely in Arabic with English subtitles, much for the fury of Netflix’s social media comments.
After a violent shoot out leaves his uncle dead, police officer of all of two months, Kawa, finds himself face to face with the long rumoured-dead Nineveh SWAT Team. Major Jasem, who charges the group consisting of ex-homicide detectives and armed forces trainers takes on Kawa as the newest member much to the reluctance to the untrusting others. The group are apprehensive of revealing their mission plans to Kawa, all reeling from their personal wounds from Islamic State in which the details of the audience is spared. Kawa’s many questions about their actions go unanswered or ignored instead, he travels with them through the city as they bribe fellow police officers, and act as helfpul guardians to children on the street orphaned by the conflict. The film has many scenes of gun battles, and each member of the SWAT team have uncanny aim as they routinely pop off Islamic State fighters and snipers in their way. The film however doesn’t just simply have intervals of explosions and headshots, it chooses to show the effect of these battles. At one point Kawa, standing on a rooftop having just shot dead two ISIS snipers looks over the wall to see a woman, desperately shaking the dead body of her toddler son. She who catches his eye showing no emotion towards him, rather just a solum look of exhaustion, engulfed in the sadness of what her home has become.
Produced by the Russo Brothers of Marvel Cinematic Universe fame, may disrupt their usual audience, who have become accustomed superheroes flying through cities (or literally dropping them from the sky) without as much as even a look back over the shoulder at the casualties. This scene is one of many in Mosul that serves a stark reminder that it’s not only based on real events, but real grief.
Death is familiar throughout the film, in particular within the team itself making it clear to the audience that danger lurks around every corner. These happen in rapid succession, and with the groups resilience to continue their mission despite their own grief, this means there is a lack of time for audiences to obtain sense of loss for them. The film also relishes in its willingness to make political statements, “an Iraq without Saddam, the West, Terrorists or an Iranian Colonel” Major Jasem screams at someone in the latter role ensuring that those watching from home know that ISIS is not Iraq’s first unwelcome invader. It’s a dramatic and tense moment, but has a tendency for it’s true impact to get lost in the film’s barrel of action. Whilst the production team worked with fixers born and raised in the city who watched the evolution of a terror group ravage their homes and it shows, many however may find the message juxtaposed within action scenes somewhat jarring.
Recently films about the Middle East, in particular, its tragedies and conflicts are often met with distaste by residents of the countries, who often critique them their creative licence or downright ignorant inaccuracies. Mosul, thankfully, ensures precsion, accuracy and respect.
A thrilling, heartbreaking ride. Netflix’ gives Mosul a worldwide platform of millions of viewers who may have their own misconceptions about ISIS within the Middle East. In a film market saturated with white saviour tropes and police officers chasing after bearded men with muddled Middle Eastern-accents, it’s is a welcome and important change.
Mosul is now streaming on Netflix worldwide.
Kurtis Reid is a freelance journalist from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
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