Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Mosul Movie Poster Image
Constant war violence in excellent movie about Iraq War.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance in the face of enormous difficulties and profound tragedy and suffering. 

Positive Role Models

Based on an article in The New Yorker, this movie avoids war movie stereotypes to show a SWAT team that has chosen to take on ISIS insurgents on their own terms. 


Constant war violence. Snipers shoot and kill civilians. Dead child shown on the road. Car bombs. Drone strikes. Characters stabbed to death. Characters' throats slit and killed. Blood. Dead bodies. Constant fighting with assorted weaponry. 


After taking over an ISIS hideout, one of the SWAT team members finds a collection of pornographic magazines on a desk. While resting in an abandoned apartment, members of the SWAT team watch a Kuwaiti soap opera and make sexually-suggestive comments about the women on the show. 


"F--k" often used. Also: "d--k," "son of a bitch," "hell." 


Movie based on an article that appeared in The New Yorker. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. Hookah smoking in one scene. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mosul is a 2020 action drama in which a policeman in Iraq's second largest city joins a rogue SWAT team as they do battle with ISIS insurgents. There's constant and unrelenting war violence, as the lead characters get into near-constant skirmishes amidst a bombed-out city. Snipers kill civilians. A dead child is shown on the road. Car bombs. Drone strikes. In hand-to-hand combat, rivals are stabbed to death or have their throats slit. Fighting with a variety of weaponry. Casualties. "F--k" often used. After moving in on an ISIS hideout, one of the SWAT team members discovers a collection of pornographic magazines on a desk. Smoking. Movie based on an article that appeared in The New Yorker. 

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What's the story?

In MOSUL, Kawa, a 21-year-old police officer, is in a horrific shootout with a gang of ISIS insurgents. As his uncle is shot and dying, Kawa is rescued by members of the Nineveh SWAT team. After the battle, Kawa is asked to join by Major Jasem. Jasem's team has gone rogue, going to war with ISIS while ignoring the commands of their superiors on the relatively safe part of Mosul. The conditions to join the Nineveh are that one must have been injured by ISIS or have lost a loved one to them. Since Kawa has just lost his uncle, he can be drafted. Kawa agrees to join, despite the secrecy about the missions they're undertaking, and the hostility he experiences from some of his new team members. After most of them survive a car bomb explosion set off by one of Kawa's relatives that he had just fought with, the team discovers a hidden ISIS base. Taking out this base will help liberate this part of Mosul that has been under ISIS control, and so Jasem, Kawa, and the others try to come up with a plan of attack to eliminate the base and those inside, in spite of the long odds of success and slim chance for survival. 

Is it any good?

Without the background and developed characters, Mosul would still be a decent war movie, assuming one can overlook that it's based on the very real horrors of one chapter from the Iraq War. Without this, the movie would basically be little more than a reenactment of a first-person shooter video game. Instead, we get damaged characters trying to not only survive in what often seems like something from a movie set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but also to find a way to salvage and reclaim their hometown. These aren't heroes in the cliched action movie sense of the term, but are human and flawed characters driven to extremes by extreme circumstances. By doing this, a different kind of heroism emerges, and a powerful sense of the resilience in the Iraqi people, a resilience that can't be conveyed by a two-minute action movie montage with a Survivor song playing in the background. 

It isn't easy to develop three-dimensional characters in movies centered on constant warfare, and most action movies take the easy way out and don't even bother to develop their action movie characters much beyond giving them an easy to remember nickname like "Casanova" or "Einstein." That we get such a powerful sense of what's at stake and why these characters are fighting in Mosul is a testament to the quality of the writing and acting. The action never really slows down, and when it does, it doesn't really feel like it because there's always an expectation that a bomb is about to go off or a drone is about to strike. This balance between story and action in such an action-heavy movie is what separates Mosul from lesser efforts, as well as its focus on Iraqis in the Iraq War instead of Americans. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about war movies. How does this compare to other movies about war that you've seen?

  • Think of the heroes in action movies. How are the main characters in this movie similar to and different from the iconic heroes of action movies? How is heroism shown in this movie? 

  • Was the violence excessive, or was it necessary to convey the horrors of urban warfare between Iraqis and ISIS insurgents? 

Movie details

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