‘Mosul’ offers fragmentary view of fight against ISIS

Reviewing the movie “Mosul,” by the American screenwriter and director Matthew Carnahan.
Sunday 13/12/2020
Iraqi actor Suhail Dabbach portrays the role of the officer Jassim in Mosul. (Netflix)
Iraqi actor Suhail Dabbach portrays the role of the officer Jassim in Mosul. (Netflix)

The Iraqi city of Mosul was the site of a humanitarian catastrophe and a grinding war after it fell into the hands of ISIS in the summer of 2014. On October 17, 2016, an operation was launched to retake Mosul from ISIS. In July 2017, the final victory over ISIS was declared.

The first scenes of the movie “Mosul,” by American screenwriter and director Matthew Carnahan, open against this backdrop. The scenes show the complete destruction of the city and its transformation into a ghost town.

The film provides information about ISIS’s occupation of the city, and how a group of Iraqi special forces, named the Nineveh SWAT team, is formed. The film’s introduction says, “The Nineveh SWAT team is the only group that fought ISIS in that war daily,” noting that “the members of that group are from the city.”

Actors Adam Bessa and Suhail Dabbach at the premiere of “Mosul” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
Actors Adam Bessa and Suhail Dabbach at the premiere of “Mosul” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2019. (REUTERS)

Then, the film moves to a direct clash with light weapons and grenades between SWAT forces and ISIS extremists. We are left with the impression that the SWAT team was no stranger  to the devastation of the sprawling city of Mosul.

As the clashes expand, we get to know the commander of that group, Officer Jassim (actor Suhail Dabbach) with a few soldiers, and a policeman named Kawa (actor Adam Bessa) who will join them, so that the fighting with ISIS elements continues, ending with their deaths.

Here the question arises, was this the group that liberated these vast areas of Mosul?

According to the film’s description, it is the only group that fought ISIS without stopping, but was the group’s fight against ISIS only during the day, with a truce at night?

The question arises because we do not witness one single night scene during the film. All of the featured battles take place during the day, which is contrary to the archives of that bloody war. In reality, night battles never subsided, with continued clashes just like in the day, and that is another flaw.

Going back to that group whose heroism was praised, we expect to see some exceptionally heroic acts, but we see only ordinary fighting.

We do not see any real risk taking, ambushes or infiltration into areas behind enemy lines. These are among the usual heroic activities in war films that show individual feats, but here the focus is on uninterrupted shooting.

Because of all this, we can hardly distinguish the characteristics or capabilities of the group members. Perhaps we remember Walid (actor Isaac Elias) in the scene where he finds his wife and daughter being held by ISIS. This section of the film has no effect and adds little. It is also poor in direction and acting.

Two things distinguish this film — movement and dialogue. The rapid movement of the camera, carried on a shoulder, accompanying the soldier’s rapid moves is a distinctive mark in the film. The dialogue is marginal and closer to chatter, giving the impression it is simply meant to fill the void. In addition, we occasional hear words with non-Iraqi accents.

Director Matthew Michael Carnahan poses with actors Suhail Dabbach, Mohimen Mahbuba and Adam Bessa at the world premiere of “Mosul” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
Director Matthew Michael Carnahan poses with actors Suhail Dabbach, Mohimen Mahbuba and Adam Bessa at the world premiere of “Mosul” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2019. (REUTERS)

Short sentences with unclear meanings are also heard in the dialogues. Their effect is dim, as the raging war requires fierce, eloquent and expressive verbal exchanges commensurate with the unfolding action.

A soundtrack that is repeated in many scenes becomes almost boring. This is an additional flaw, as Iraqi or eastern musical instruments could have been used in a more professional way.