Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Sean Sagar
Synopsis: During the war in Afghanistan, a local interpreter risks his own life to carry an injured sergeant across miles of grueling terrain.
The United States left over seven billion dollars in military equipment when they withdrew from Afghanistan, but the price of leaving seventy-eight thousand Afghan allies is incalculable. Most of these were interpreters and were promised visas for themselves and their families after completing their mission. Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is given a proper big studio treatment but once again tells the story through the lens of a white savior character instead of the most interesting subject of the tale.
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant tells the story of Master Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) who leads an elite unit looking for Afghan insurgents. Kinley is an officer who has to put their trust not only in their local interpreter’s translation but also in the knowledge of the communities in the surrounding areas. Their newest interpreter goes by the name of Ahmed (Dar Salim), who used to be a mechanic before the war. He proves his worth to Kinley by sniffing out an ambush early on. Ahmed has reason to so wary of spies from the Taliban – his son was murdered by the predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group.
After watching the film, you will realize the trailer gives away most of the movie, so there are no real surprises. Guy Ritchie co-wrote the film with Wrath of Man and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre scribes Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. The second act primarily deals with what you already know — Ahmed carried Kinley safely through rough terrain littered with the Taliban. The film is not based on a true story but is inspired by the broad idea of the sacrifices the brave local interpreters made.
Guy Ritchie’s film may be his most mainstream to date, and I’ll admit the first two acts are very suspenseful and even exciting. That includes the film’s first big gun battle, where Kinley and company stumble upon an insurgent base filled with ammunition and even an area to torture hostages while taping them. Another scene shows how reliant the U.S. Army is on these men, in which one of their translators intentionally misleads them. These set pieces are extraordinarily well-done, brutal, and eye-opening to the everyday dangers of patrolling during Operation Enduring Freedom.
You’ll enjoy the performances from Gyllenhaal and especially the gravitas Dar Salim brings to the role here. There’s a genuine visceral feeling when Salim’s Ahmed carries Gyllenhaal’s Kinley to safety. There is a tension-filled grip that holds the viewer’s attention and will hardly let go. However, the film stumbles in its third act when you get the white survivor’s guilt, which seems a bit pie-in-the-sky. Kinley goes in alone to bring back the man who saved his life, who has been waiting for approval while hiding from the Taliban, who have Ahmed on their most wanted list. The final scenes, which involve The Boys’ Antony Starr being paid to help with the rescue, bring one too many overwrought action scenes that feel repetitive rather than building any additional exhilarating action.
And that’s a significant issue with Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. The final act would have made the film work so much better if it dealt with Ahmed’s struggle to survive rather than Kinley’s guilt and depression of leaving one man behind. Besides playing into the white savior trope, the film plays it too safe by being too conventional, which is commonplace in most action-adventure films. Sure, it’s inspired by current events where wounds are still exposed, but that rescue effort hinders Ritchie’s film from being great.
For a better film, please check out the far superior and the haunting nature of Matthew Heineman’s documentary Retrograde, a powerful film in scope and examines themes from a lens from the men who lived it.