TIFF 2019: Mosul (Matthew Michael Carnahan, 2019, USA)

               Matthew Michael Carnahan’s Mosul is an interesting curio, at least at the conceptual level – an Arabic-language action film with Arabic actors, telling the story of an Iraqi SWAT team fighting ISIS in the war-torn city of Mosul. Produced by the Russo brothers of Avengers: Endgame fame, Carnahan’s debut feature has a lot of talent behind the camera, and it shows. The gun battles and action set pieces on display would not feel out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster. Stylistically, the film shares similarities with the work of Paul Greengrass in its almost docudrama-style approach to the action, with shaky camerawork and a spare musical score.
               As a technical achievement, Mosul is admirable. Yet the film falls short in a number of ways. Despite the aid of multiple researchers that Carnahan had on the film, there is somehow very little cultural specificity to be felt from the events playing onscreen. Perhaps the intricacies of the political situation in Iraq were better left for another film, but Carnahan’s script feels as though it could be relating any conflict at any point in history. This becomes glaringly apparent when the film does address the history and political situation in Iraq directly – during only a single moment within a heated argument toward the end of the film.
               Likewise, the narrative itself feels generic. The tropes on display in Mosul could be found in any Hollywood blockbuster – from the old patriarch of the team, to the young new guy who is gradually trusted by the rest as the story evolves. The mission the men are on, presumably to reclaim territory captured by ISIS, is left vague throughout the film. Through no fault of their own but rather Carnahan’s script, the men on the team feel largely interchangeable. Even when the members of the team die, it fails to evoke a strong sense of loss.
               As a result, the film begins to grow tiresome very quickly. Without a strong character to identify with, the repeated routine of gunfights followed by quieter moments becomes stale. It’s a shame, because at the technical level, all of the elements are in place to make Mosul a successful film.



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