Review by Camden Ferrell
After his Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed stars in his newest movie Mogul Mowgli. Premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival, this movie is the narrative feature debut of director Bassam Tariq and was written by both Ahmed and Tariq. Even though it can be a tad inconsistent, this movie excels due to Ahmed’s fantastic and emotional leading performance and the daring visual style throughout.
Zed is a rapper who returns home to London before starting on a European tour. However, those plans are halted when he gets diagnosed with a degenerative autoimmune disease. Now, he must cope with his illness, his career, his family, and his identity. This will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Ahmed’s previous film, Sound of Metal, but this movie does enough with its premise to distinguish itself.
Ahmed and Tariq’s screenplay is strong throughout. The dialogue and interactions with Zed and his family are realistic while also being interesting. It balances the movie well with more somber and quiet scenes, and it takes some narrative risks with certain aspects of the film. It isn’t always the most coherent, and it’s full of themes, some of which don’t get fully realized in the film.
The highlight of this film is undeniably Ahmed’s powerful leading performance. Not only does he excel with the rapping in the movie (most likely due to his real-life experience), but he also expertly handles all the moments in between. He’s convincing as his character struggles with his illness. He also does a great job of acting in the more surreal sequences throughout the film. He’s supported by a strong cast, but he is the clear standout of the entire movie.
One of the things I immediately noticed was how dynamic the camera work in the movie is and how it truly elevates many scenes. Annika Summerson’s cinematography is engaging and shows some true talent. Even though it can feel inconsistent at time, I do commend Tariq’s ambitious style and vision. He transforms a cultural identity crisis into a surrealist nightmare at times in a way that’s strikingly mature for a new director. Despite its flaws, this is a movie that has a strong hand guiding its vision to execution.
Mogul Mowgli is yet another showcase for Ahmed as a leading man, but it also shows promise for Tariq as an innovative and exciting director. Its brief runtime doesn’t allow for full development of its themes, and its style can be a bit jarring at times, but this is an engaging and powerful movie about one artist’s struggle through an illness.
Mogul Mowgli is in theaters September 3.