Resistance fighters from Iraq fight to reclaim their home from ISIS in this based-on-a-true-story war drama from the writer of Dark Waters and Deepwater Horizon, produced by Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame). Daniel Rutledge explains what makes this tale a great war film, if not a definitive one.
It’s sometimes hard to believe the reign of ISIS happened within our lifetime, just a few years ago, rather than in some savage ancient time. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to get movies about the heroes who defeated the unbelievably barbaric, evil force that wrought such awful terror in particular upon Iraq, a nation whose people have been relentlessly terrorized more than most.
Mosul throws the viewer into the last days of the Islamic State’s rule, as its members were finally being driven out of the Iraqi city the film is named after. And thrown in we sure as hell are, straight into a desperate gunfight as two lone cops face an onslaught of ISIS gunmen. One of those cops is Kawa, a young chap who is then taken in by the Nineveh SWAT team, one of the many little groups that’s part of an uneasy alliance against ISIS.
As an audience surrogate, Kawa at first objects to the brutal style of his new brothers-in-arms, but is nonetheless swept up in their undeniably noble cause. And then Mosul just never gives up in its intensity or pace from that fiery opening.
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This is a wholly Iraqi story about a wholly Iraqi tragedy put together by an American filmmaker, which is definitely a risky move, but Matthew Michael Carnahan has done a solid job that appears to be respectful and non-exploitative. While there are definitely some war film tropes used in Mosul, there’s also a lot of originality in it, too. Kawa’s story arc might be obvious from the get-go, but the pace in which it’s achieved and its relative insignificance to the film’s major themes certainly are not. A tense segment where the SWAT team encounters an Iranian militia is especially interesting, too.
Unlike a lot of similar films, these soldiers are not portrayed as superhuman. They’re very vulnerable, they’re exhausted and they make a lot of dreadfully costly combat mistakes. It adds to the super desperate feel of it all and carries a sense of realism with it. There is a lack of finesse to some of the firefights, however, along with an occasional lack of gravitas to the dramatic scenes that keep this from being a total homerun.
Still, it’s one of the more unique action movies of the year that’s also genuinely moving at times, not least of which is its highly impactful and sombre end. This won’t be the definitive war film about the battle against ISIS, but it’s still a great one.