Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (2023) Review!!

Synopsis – Follows Sergeant John, who on his last tour of duty in Afghanistan is teamed with local interpreter Ahmed, who risks his own life to carry an injured John across miles of grueling terrain to safety.

My Take – Though we have seen about a dozen films surrounding America’s occupation of Afghanistan after 9/11 in the past two decades, possibly from every available angle, but in the hands of director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Gentlemen) one could always expect a unique introspect.

Inspired to make his first war film after watching documentaries about the conflict in Afghanistan and the many true, tragic stories of Afghan interpreters who worked with the United States military for over 20 years, who were promised visas and then left to fend for themselves in a hostile country after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

Here, director Ritchie and co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies have crafted a distinct story set in the U.S. military about the deals made between men and the sacred responsibility to hold up one’s end of the bargain. And despite the missing traditional Guy Ritchie directing flare one usually expects, the film results in a masterful blend of action, drama, and emotional impact.

A true-to-life feature that captures the grit and intensity one wants from war films, with all the elements audiences have come to expect, and then some. While there is a subtle stamp of creative style woven into the directing and cinematography, the film remains throughout serious in tone, realistic, not whimsical at all. While it is risky to put one’s name in title, thankfully, he chose the right one. It’s a worthwhile subject, to say the least.

Sure, it isn’t his finest film by any means, yet it once again showcases Guy Ritchie‘s skills as a filmmaker and storyteller. Offering a thrilling and emotional journey for its characters and its audience, with some memorable scenes and performances.

Yes, the film is not very original or profound in its depiction of war and its consequences, but it is still an engaging and enjoyable watch for fans of the genre, particularly on how it highlights one of the few consequences of Afghan war and the mess that was left behind.

Set in 2018, the story follows U.S. Army sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal), who along with his elite tactical unit search has been tasked with searching and destroying IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) factories and Taliban weapons outposts. Their deadly job leads often leads to tragic losses. And when John loses his interpreter in a truck bomb, he is forced to review a new list of candidates to replace.

That is until, a colleague recommends Ahmed (Dar Salim), a headstrong but perceptive Afghan, whose son was murdered by the Taliban and now works on the opposite side as the position employs multilingual locals with the promise of travel visas out of Afghanistan afterward.

Though their working relationship gets off to a tumultuous start, the two form a bond when they are forced to rely on each other after an operation goes tremendously bad, resulting in the deaths of their entire team. With Ahmed particularly saving John’s life by dragging him through the mountains, evading anyone out to capture or kill them.

Allowing John to fly back to the states to recuperate. However, when John finds out that Ahmed is still in Afghanistan, in hiding with his wife and infant child, due to a bounty from the Taliban, he heads back to rescue him, defying his superiors and risking his own life.

What unfolds is an unbelievable tale of bonds and bargains forged in blood that is unrelentingly intense from start to finish. This movie has everything, from nail-biting action scenes to heart-wrenching moments of emotional resonance, and the acting from everyone involved is simply impeccable.

The film’s action scenes are bloody and realistic. Soldiers die and get horrifically injured. The Taliban fighters aren’t just foolish lambs to the slaughter; they are formidable adversaries fighting on their own land with religious fervor. And director Ritchie delivers pulse-pounding combat and brilliantly crafted stealth.

What sets it apart from other war movies is that it isn’t just another war movie and operates best as a quiet, taut character drama that tests America’s failed promises to the Middle Eastern country and its people. It may still be America-centric in its main character, but the film does a good job of honoring the local interpreters who risked their and their families’ lives to help those fighting the Taliban, who have no compunction killing innocents or themselves to inflict maximum casualties on the invading infidels.

They particularly despise Afghans aiding the cause for freedom and consider them to be traitors. A lot of the dialogue is in Afghani languages, showing just how out of water the American soldiers were.

But above all, this is a thrilling story of a covenant-a bond or commitment-between a soldier and his translator. While the journey still features monologues that lean into American superiority, but it’s through both co-stars’ devotion to each other as brothers in arms that dramatic survival instincts shine through. A flashback sequence in which John recalls being dragged over mountains to safety is particularly a highlight.

It also helps that Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim share great chemistry. Gyllenhaal gives a great performance as usual, delivering a nuanced and compelling portrayal of a soldier grappling with PTSD and survivor’s guilt while exhibiting compassion and determination. Salim is equally impressive as a complex and conflicted character who does much of the heavy lifting, both figuratively and literally.

In supporting roles, Emily Beecham, Alexander Ludwig, Jonny Lee Miller, Antony Starr, Bobby Schofield, Sean Sagar, Jason Wong, Cyrus Khodaveisi, Sina Parvaneh and Christian Ochoa are effective. On the whole, ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ is a gripping war film that is thrilling, intense, and emotionally compelling throughout.

Directed –

Starring – Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Antony Starr

Rated – R

Run Time – 123 minutes

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