“Mosul” dramatizes a 2017 story in The New Yorker that chronicled a self-directed Iraqi SWAT team’s efforts to fight the Islamic State. Counting both Condé Nast and the “Avengers: Endgame” directors Anthony and Joe Russo among its producers, this Netflix movie balances admirable ambition (it’s an American film, but the characters speak Arabic) with the cruder goosing strategies and red-meat dialogue of a revenge picture.
The film, the directing debut of the screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (Peter Berg’s “The Kingdom”), begins mid-shootout. Kawa (Adam Bessa), a newly minted Iraqi police officer, is nearby when his uncle is killed by Islamic State fighters. The Nineveh SWAT team, headed by Major Jasem (Suhail Dabbach), shows up and kills them, then, after a tense interrogation, extends Kawa an offer to join. The team only takes men who have been wounded by the Islamic State or lost family to them, and Kawa now qualifies.
“Mosul” follows the group as it navigates violence-torn Mosul on a mysterious mission. (It involves more than simply driving the Islamic State out of the city, though no one is quick to tell Kawa the specifics.) Along the way, the men enjoy a brief respite watching a Kuwaiti soap opera; find safety for one of two young boys whose parents were killed; and engage in an uneasy barter with a Shiite militia force, trading cigarettes for bullets.
Instant death lurks around every corner, and the movie doesn’t shy from killing off major characters. But it does play like an odd match of form and content: a story of single-minded humanitarianism framed as a relentless action spectacular.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. Watch on Netflix.