Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Mosul begins smack in the middle of the action. We see two Iraqi policemen trying to fend off an approaching horde of ISIS terrorists. The terrorists are trying to kill the two policemen and rescue two of their own from their clasps. The policemen are out of ammunition and are about to be butchered. It is at this juncture that they are rescued by Major Jasem’s (Suhail Dabbach) SWAT team. An elite unit of the Iraqi police force, Jasem and his men not only save the two police officers but also recruits one of them, Kawa (Adam Bessa) who has lost his uncle and fellow officer in the fight. Kawa is told nothing more than that they are on one final mission against the fleeing ISIS terrorists and that they are headed to the part of town that is still infested with ISIS fighters. Kawa, who has joined the force only a month back and has lost his uncle in the previous fight, agrees to tag along as he sees merit in their action and wants to contribute to the destruction of ISIS and restore Mosul to its previous glory.

We have had numerous films about how the Americans conducted themselves in Iraq and their various exploits but this is probably the first time that we are getting a film about how the Iraqi police dealt with the menace of ISIS and the heavy price that they had to pay to do that. This aspect of the film immediately elevated its appeal and added a character to the story that was intriguing and affecting. Major Jasem and his men were out for blood. They didn’t care to make any arrests and killed off the ISIS terrorists in the most brutal manner possible. They even made it a point to ensure that some of them were left to die a slow and painful death. Kawa questions Jasem on why he had killed the two arrested ISIS men even without questioning them. To this Jasem replies that he knows all the answers that these men had to offer. His words point to a long and arduous war that he most definitely fought and in his mannerisms it is apparent that he has no more arrests to make.

The entire film plays out without Kawa ever learning what is the mission that the SWAT team is on. When he finally learns what their target was, it is a moment of poignancy, power, and emotional release that is of the highest order. There are times in the narrative where Jasem is on the verge of revealing the mission to Kawa. There are also moments when he is inches from learning who the team’s target is but the veil of secrecy is always maintained because of the breakneck pace at which things keep happening to the team and the lack of time they get to catch their breaths.

Having said that, the film is still peppered with references and nudges that point to what the mission might be. It is all there laid in front of our eyes and yet very few will actually get it in the first viewing. We have just as much knowledge of the mission as Kawa does and we see most of the events of the film unfold through his eyes. This was one of the most intelligent things that Matthew Michael Carnahan did with the story. This aspect of the film also makes it a better watch in the subsequent viewings when we can correlate the actions, expressions, and mannerisms of the men with what their mission is and can understand why some of them are reacting oddly to certain circumstances. Matthew Michael Carnahan writes the film in a way that sows the seeds of suspicion in the minds of the viewers through the questions and doubts of Kawa. This gives the characters a duality and adds to the intrigue of the narrative.  

Mosul is just about 1 hour 42 minutes long and every second of that runtime is spent on moving the characters and the story forward. It is extremely well-paced and hits a perfect balance between the action sequences and the interpersonal drama. There are enough character moments to make it feel like an emotional tale as it is ultimately preparing us for a climax that has more dramatic weight and payload than action and mayhem to make an impact. For that kind of a climax to work, the audiences had to relate with the characters, and that is achieved through the numerous brief but effective encounters between the men that the audience is made privy to. Through these interactions, we get to love or hate these men. A lot of the men are lost in the way to the climax and we feel each and every loss. The writer takes a risky call just before the climax that I thought for a second would spoil the film. However, what we get in the climax justified the decision totally.

The performances by the ensemble cast are terrific. However, the three performances that made the most impact on me were the three primary characters that basically have the most to do in the screenplay. Suhail Dabbach as Major Jasem is a towering presence. There wasn’t a single frame where he appeared to be anything other than the grizzled and tortured Commander of the SWAT team. His character is so well written that the man gets enough room to flex his acting muscles and he does so with conviction. Apart from the scenes where he lets loose his aggressive side, I particularly enjoyed his essay in the quieter moments where he let his eyes do the talking. His camaraderie with Adam Bessa who plays Kawa and Ishaq Elias who plays his second-in-command Waleed is immaculate.  

Adam Bessa plays Kawa, the only character that has a considerable arch through the narrative. The man starts off as a confused soul who finds himself in a situation that he has no control over. He is pushed and heckled by the men of the SWAT team and is also looked upon with suspicion. But as the story progresses, he finds his footing and by the time we reach the climax, his character becomes something very different from what he started off as. I was bowled over by his expressions and mannerisms in the climax of the film. This is easily the best scene of the entire film and will remain etched in my memory for a long time. Bessa is electric in his rendition of this scene.  

Ishaq Elias plays a tortured character. We understand that he is not in his right mind from the onset and it is made abundantly clear by his expressions that his burdened by something that he wants to do but isn’t sure if he wants to do it owing to the risks that his team is bound to be in if he undertakes the mission. Elias’ good work throughout the film builds up to a scene in the climax that made me teary-eyed. It was so because of the emotional depth and payload that it had associated with it. Seeing a character like Waleed in such an emotional and vulnerable state was affecting and only underlined the fact that even the toughest of men are in the end, only human with the same emotions and a beating heart.

Mosul is one of the most thought-provoking and endlessly entertaining and intriguing films on the Iraq-ISIS catastrophe. It is made by an American, Matthew Michael Carnahan who also wrote it. He evidently understood the subject, the players, and the stakes that were involved. It is completely in Arabic and the subtitles are rendered in such a way that we are told only the key portions of the dialogue that we need to understand the story. This was a gutsy call as it might have led to many questioning the dialogues that didn’t have rendered subtitles. In the end, it worked as it helped de-clutter the screen and allowed the viewers to concentrate on the actors and their performances more than what was appearing in the form of text on the screen. This is a must-watch! 

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