‘Based on true events’, a day in the life of the Nineveh SWAT team in Mosul is a tense, arresting tale of men who are fighting against all odds with limited means.
Luke Mogelson’s gripping story for the New Yorker’s February 6, 2017 issue, of an Iraqi SWAT team, was the inspiration for the film Mosul. If you are interested in doing a bit of background reading, it is an amazing piece that goes into vivid detail and humanises the fighters as it does so.
Described unceremoniously by Netflix with one adjective, Mosul the film is indeed “gritty” but so watchable that an hour and a half goes by without notice. That it was shot in Arabic is commendable, but should not be celebrated as exceptional, as it makes more sense to use actors who are fluent in Arabic for a film about a SWAT team in Iraq.
The Arabic chosen for the film, however, wasn’t the Mosul dialect, as the director explains to Forbes: “”We landed on Baghdad dialect Arabic, because the Mosulian dialect is very peculiar to Northern Iraq, to that region of the world, and one of our language advisers described it as the difference between Cajun English and California English. So, to be as broadly appealing to that region as possible, we landed on Baghdad dialect Arabic.”
Dedicated to the members of the Nineveh SWAT team who lost their lives, and “based on true events”, Mosul is the story of such a team battling Daesh in the Iraqi city under dire circumstances.
In one chilling scene, Daesh members – so close! – contact the SWAT team via radio, mocking them for their dwindling number of Humvees and, it goes without saying, fighters. “You had six Humvees before. Now you have three. And three months ago, you had nine.”
The SWAT team only accepts men who have been hurt by Daesh – either physically, or through the loss of a loved one. Young policeman Kawe (Adam Bessa) fits the bill as he meets the team in the midst of a shootout with Daesh, one that kills his uncle.
He is offered a spot after a brief interrogation by Major Jasem (Suhail Dabbach), and while he doesn’t always know what’s going on, joins them regardless. His police partner is confused, but is told to tell his superiors, who assume all these ex-cops in the SWAT team are dead, that they are very much alive.
With all events taking place within the same day, the film, the first directorial experience by screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, is a taut thriller in which the Nineveh SWAT team has to travel from one end of the city to another, while looking out for, and killing when they find, Daesh terrorists.
Both the writing and the acting is superb, with Suhail Dabbach playing the steely yet paternal Major Jassem that all his team members look up to. It would be difficult to imagine what the squadron would be like if it weren’t for him holding it together, yet despite all the hits the team takes, they march on.
There are many touching scenes that ring true, but the ones that stand out are: when Major Jasem offers to take in two little boys on the side of the road who are mourning the loss of their family. There is another when the men find a functioning TV in an abandoned house and catch up with a Kuwaiti soap opera about a man with three wives (“Three? One is too many!”), and then another when one of the SWAT team members is reunited with his wife and daughter for a brief moment. There’s also a tense faceoff with Iranian Shia fighters, trading cigarettes for ammunition.
The politics of the Middle East is criticised amidst the dialogue. The Iranian leader of the Popular Mobilization Force tells Major Jasem: “You’re not a real country. You haven’t been since Babylon. You were created by a drunk British dilettante and a French bureaucrat with inaccurate maps.”
At another point, the United States is panned: “They [Americans] flatten everything because they don’t have to rebuild anything.”
Mosul is at times thrilling, terrifying and humorous. It is recommended if you like your action films with a bit of current events and politics, rather than escapist fantasy.