Mosul movie poster
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Mosul
Mosul movie poster

Mosul Movie Review

This Thanksgiving, whether you’re trapped at home or risking the pandemic to visit with family and friends, switch off the football, stuff away the turkey, and head over to Netflix for the most cheerful movies of the year: Mosul, set in the decimated Iraqi city as a crew of elite police officers engage in various gun battles with ISIS. Expect lots of smiles, hug, and jolly times.

An intense action film with only brief pauses for contemplation and sporadic character development, Mosul is produced by the Russo brothers (Avengers: Endgame) but more importantly is directed by first-timer Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also wrote the film.

What’s most notable about Mosul is that, despite its American director and U.S.-based funding, the movie features a largely Middle Eastern cast (Adam Bessa, one of the stars, is French, with Tunisian ancestry) and dialogue delivered entirely in an Iraqi dialect of Arabic. 

The lack of American soldiers, and the requirement of subtitles, shouldn’t dissuade you from checking out Mosul, however. Exciting, gritty, and realistic, Mosul makes you feel as if you’ve been dropped into a war zone with no way out except forward. As seen through the eyes of a young police officer (Bessa) who, one day, is recruited to the defiant SWAT squadron by its commander (Suhail Dabbach), Mosul zigzags its way from one battle to the next to accomplish a mission that only becomes clear in the film’s final minutes.

The mission, as it turns out, is a little too much on the sentimental end of the spectrum for my liking, but arguably cheesy finale aside, 99% of the movie is nonstop war action staged beautifully by Carnahan and choreographer Mauro Fiore.

In between action scenes, Carnahan does a fine job establishing his lead characters. Deep retrospective this is not, but by the end of the film he has introduced just enough backstory and bonding moments to make these men feel real and relatable, no easy task since so few of us can truly understand what it would be like to be in their shoes. Carnahan would have been better served to give Bessa’s character a scene or two at the beginning to build him up a bit more; he starts off and largely remains a blank slate throughout the film, whereas Dabbach is able to elicit more emotional attachment with arguably less opportunity.

Mosul offers an intense, immersive experience that serves as one of the best modern war stories put to film. Even though it lacks the character introspection to elevate it to top tier status, Mosul marks an incredible directorial debut for Matthew Michael Carnahan and serves as an exciting dish to enjoy on Thanksgiving.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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