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'Mosul' Offers A Look At Lives Of Iraqis Who Live On Front Lines Of War With ISIS

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The new Netflix film "Mosul" puts viewers right in the middle of the action as an Iraqi SWAT team goes on a deadly mission against ISIS. U.S.-led coalition efforts to liberate the Iraqi city from ISIS saw thousands of civilian casualties. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the film provides an important perspective - that of Iraqis living on the front lines. And a warning - sounds of gunfire will follow.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's not a surprise the film "Mosul" begins explosive.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

DEGGANS: As the story kicks off, ISIS is leaving the Iraqi city of Mosul, but there are still skirmishes between ISIS fighters and Iraqi police. In the opening scene, two police officers are ducking gunfire, taking cover in a building while holding two ISIS fighters captive. Just as the police are about to run out of ammo, they hear a heavy barrage of gunfire...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

DEGGANS: ...And silence. The Nineveh SWAT team, a group of Iraqi police renowned for fighting ISIS, ambush the attackers, saving the policemen. This searing scene drops viewers inside the chaos, danger, confusing agendas and devastation of the fight over Mosul. It turns out the SWAT team has one more mission to fulfill, and they want the youngest police officer they rescued to join them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOSUL")

BILAL ADAM BESSA: (As Kawa, speaking Arabic).

DEGGANS: I don't know where we are going, what our mission is or any of you, says the young officer, played by French Tunisian actor Bilal Adam Bessa. Why should I listen? The SWAT team's commander, given a weary yet steely confidence by Iraqi actor Suhail Dabbach, says simply, we're the good guys. The use of language here is important. The dialogue is entirely in Arabic, with the actors working hard to speak in the dialect of the real-life SWAT team featured in a New Yorker article that inspired the film.

The movie has a Hollywood pedigree, written and directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also wrote films like "Deepwater Horizon," and produced by Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed blockbuster Marvel movies like "Avengers: Endgame," which may explain why the SWAT team members are humanized by moments you can recognize from any American war film. One moment they're snatching a bit of rest by relaxing in an abandoned apartment, watching a soap opera.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOSUL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, speaking Arabic).

DEGGANS: Later, the SWAT team's commander pleads with two orphaned boys. They're carrying the corpse of their father along a bombed-out road. He urges the boys to come with the team to safety, but they had promised their father they would not leave his body. The two brothers argue.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOSUL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character, speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, speaking Arabic).

DEGGANS: One leaves, and one stays - another family torn apart by the brutality of war. In the film, Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city, has been ravaged by ISIS fighters who raped, tortured and murdered Iraqis to establish control. As the SWAT team hones in on its mission, the viewers are introduced to their punishing reality.

The film maintains constant tension as the team maneuvers through Mosul while ISIS is hunting them. Death comes suddenly and often, whittling down the group in surprising ways. And when their mission is finally revealed, it is unexpectedly heart-rending. "Mosul" isn't the kind of easy, sentimental TV viewing often provided during the holidays, but it is a potent reminder of the deadly struggles and sacrifices some people have endured to earn their freedom.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSH RITTER SONG, "HARRISBURG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.