Movie Review: Mosul Reflects on the Horror of ISIS and Reminds Us of the Local Heroes


The Iraq war will forever be remembered as one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century. For those who lived through it, the horrors will always remain through time.

For those who watched from the outside, the war looked almost impersonal and soon to be forgotten as just another conflict. A new Netflix movie, Mosul, however, tells a tale that reminds everyone of the often unspoken horrors of the ISIS war in Iraq.

The movie begins with the deafening sound of gunshots with two men hiding behind a wooden desk, weathering an assault from all sides by armed men. Bodies were strewn about and there is a view of the city that showed the aftermath of an apocalypse.

A closer view shows that the two men are cops who have run out of bullets as ISIS militants close in on them. Armed with a broken bottle and a knife, they waited patiently for the end.

But the end never came as a rapid burst of fire outside was followed by a deathly silence. This drew puzzled looks as both men quietly peek over the desk behind which they’ve been hiding.

They had been saved by the legendary Nineveh SWAT team, an elite squad famed among the Iraqi people as marauders of the past.

The ISIS militants hated the Nineveh SWAT team for having killed so many of them. Any SWAT member caught was summarily executed.

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After the two men, a young cop named Kawa (Adam Bessa), and his colleague were rescued, the leader of the Nineveh SWAT, Major Jasem (Suhail Dabbach) invites Kawa to join his troop after he discovered Kawa just lost his uncle.

At 1h 26m, the scene was punctuated with a constant symphony of gunshots as Nineveh SWAT team race through the deadly streets of Mosul to complete their mission.

After joining the team, Kawa immediately realises the terms of engagement were totally different from those of a policeman. There were no arrests and every last member of ISIS they come across must die — mercilessly, painfully.

As Kawa and the Nineveh SWAT team trudges through the war-torn city to carry out rogue missions, several side missions come into play including escorting a young Iraqi to a safe place, protecting fleeing refugees and the destruction of an ISIS base.

In the movie, one of the major points of intrigue was the secrecy of the teams’ mission. Acting on their own and cut off from the higher-ups, the SWAT team bribed and looted corpses of the ISIS militants they killed to obtain resources continue their mission

Several scenes show Kawa asking about details of their mission but no one was willing to tell him. This was largely because the team hadn’t trusted him at the time.

Based on a 2017 New Yorker piece, Mosul was written and directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan and co-produced by the Russo brothers – the producers of Extraction.

The movie was set during the last days of ISIS occupation of Mosul. At this time most ISIS militants were already pulling out of the city.

Carnahan, the veteran screenwriter behind The Kingdom, World War Z did not disappoint in his latest script. He added a unique jingle by punctuating the fast-paced shootouts with moments of surreal absurdity.

In one scene, Major Jasem exchanges cartons of cigarettes for much-needed ammunition. In another, the SWAT team takes refuge in an abandoned apartment and unwinds with reruns of a Kuwaiti soap opera.

As the movie unfolds, the gradual loss of team members whom Jasem calls his sons weighs on the team. Each death came with a deep sadness followed by a resolution to keep going.

Movie Review: Mosul Reflects on the Horror of ISIS and Reminds Us of the Local Heroes

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The final lap of the mission shows the six surviving members of the team rushing into a residential building as the truth behind the mission is revealed.

Spoiler Alert: The final scene revealed that the rogue mission the SWAT team was on was to rescue their families from the city.

After meeting the family, Kawa discovers that Jasem’s family was killed by ISIS, so he rilled his teammates to the next step of the mission while saving another mate’s son.

Apart from Kawa, Major Jasem’s character was magnetic. His habit of picking up trash and binning them, even though Mosul looks like an apocalyptic town gave solidity to his old-timer personality.

That said, I would have loved to learn more about the members of the SWAT team. Most of the time the camera was pointed at Kawa, our surrogate, and Major Jasem and only a couple of other members of the team were given any kind of prominence.

However, with the adrenaline pumping battle scenes every few seconds, the drama and story is just a pleasant addition.

Mosul was released on November 26, 2020. The movie is currently the Number 2 most-watched movie on Netflix in Nigeria. Testifying to the passion and intensity of the movie, Rotten tomatoes rates it 79% while IMDB rates it 7.3.

So if you are looking for a movie that reflects war or just curious about what happened in Iraq, Mosul is one of my top recommendations. Grab some popcorn and drinks and enjoy a full action-packed ride. You can stream Mosul on Netflix.

Here’s the trailer as an appetizer. If you have seen it, please share your opinion in the comments below!

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