This battle against ISIS is provocative, emotional, and dangerous on all accounts.

The directorial debut of Matthew Michael Carnahan (the writer of “The Kingdom,” “World War Z,” and “Dark Waters”) is one of the best movies of the year. “Mosul” is an action movie in the vein of “The Hurt Locker” and “The Raid,” that keeps you at the edge your seat, while experiencing its emotional weight.

The story is set in Iraq, during an on-going battle against the evils of ISIS (which in this part of the world they call “Daesh”), and it’s able to distinguish the heroes and villains. Bombs go off, people are shot and stabbed, the main police unit must be careful of whom they trust, and they’re easily reminded of the families they lost.

Just as movie theaters are threatened to be closed down again, due to COVID-19 cases going up (and they’re working on a vaccine), this one finds a special home on Netflix, so you can just sit on your couch and not in a theater to watch this masterpiece.

We meet the 21-year-old Kawa (Adam Bessa), who joins the Ninevah S.W.A.T. team from Mosul, after his uncle was murdered by ISIS militants. The leader of the unit is a former detective named Jasem (Suhail Dabbach, kind of looking like a splice of Tim Roth and Christoph Waltz), and he leads his team (featuring Is’haq Elias as Waleed, Mohimen Mahbuba as Amir, and Qutaiba Abdekhaq as Kamal) throughout the city. He nearly loses his trust in the boy, after finding out his partner is a traitor who sends some militants to bomb their resting area, but Kawa had nothing to it. As he struggles to earn their trust, he constantly asks where this unit is going and what their intentions are. We know they need to kill the monsters behind the origination, but they provide personal truths.

Much to my surprise, “Mosul” was also produced by Anthony and Joe Russo, who both specialize in action flicks like “The Avengers” movies and their other Netflix entry “Extraction.” Together with Carnahan in the director’s chair, they all made this movie complex in its prioritizing of situations at the level of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” riveting in how the fights and decisions are respectively played out, and emotional when the unit’s mission is on personal matters. Believe me: there is a family reunion that brought tears to my eyes, because it’s so beautiful and heartwarming.

The cinematography was crafted by Mauro Fiore (“Avatar,” “Training Day”), who has made sure the film looks dangerous and gripping. I love how the photography of the explosions, heroes, and environments is lit with integrity, and each scene is drawn to perfection by the art direction team. This is one of the reason we go see action movies: to see what goes down and how we ease into the dangers.

The performances from the cast are also electrifying and sentimental, and none of them I’ve ever heard of before. Bessa, Dabbach, Elias, Mahbuba, and Abdekhaq are among the new faces I hope to see again soon, because they all are given such depth and humanity within their characters.

When you see the rights and wrongs of what goes on in the Iraqi city, you see them in different perspectives, and throughout “Mosul,” you’re rooting for the good guys. It’s not hard to comprehend their worlds and their commitments to fighting against ISIS. This is an unmissable tour-de-force of a picture, and I’m glad I was able to see this on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Streaming on Netflix

Categories: Action, Drama, War

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