Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Premise: During the United States’ occupation of Afghanistan, local interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim) saves the life of American Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal). After the United States withdraws, Kinley returns to Afghanistan to rescue Ahmed and his family.
What Works: There have not been very many dramatic films about the Afghanistan War as compared to the numerous titles about World War II and Vietnam. But of the few films that have been made about America’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, The Covenant is one of the better examples. The movie is a convincing portrait of modern warfare and the filmmakers convey the ever-present hostility and danger of fighting an insurgency. The narrative is built around two compelling characters. The first half of The Covenant is Ahmed’s story. A group of American soldiers are ambushed by the Taliban and Sergeant Kinley is injured. It’s up to Ahmed to transport Kinley across mountainous terrain and evade the Taliban. The second half of the film is Kinley’s story as he copes with survivor’s guilt, navigates the military and administrative bureaucracy to get visas for Ahmed and his family, and eventually returns to Afghanistan on a rescue mission. The bifurcated narrative allows each man adequate characterization. Ahmed and Kinley are given distinct personalities and the bond between them is viscerally palatable. The action sequences are done well. The action is mostly restrained and kept on a credible scale. The Covenant was directed by Guy Ritchie, who has historically had a broad filmmaking style but he has recently pivoted to a leaner approach and Ritchie’s newfound style suits this material.
What Doesn’t: Although this is a realistic film, The Covenant is also an exercise in wish fulfillment. In 1985, the action adventure Rambo: First Blood Part II imagined a scenario in which the titular character returned to Vietnam, rescued American prisoners of war, and defeated the Vietnamese and Russian military, symbolically rewriting the humiliating end of the Vietnam War. The Covenant has a very different style than the 1985 Rambo sequel but it functions in much the same way. This story of an American rescuing his Afghan interpreter is intended to assuage the guilt and shame of the United States’ disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan in which thousands of allies were left behind. This story is worth telling and it is done well but The Covenant also provides a false impression of success to a failed mission.
Bottom Line: The Covenant’s political implications are mixed but the film succeeds as an action thriller. The story is smartly structured and the film has interesting characters and some gripping sequences.
Episode: #946 (April 30, 2023)