A Clear Message About War, Humanity & Survival

Apr 19, 2023

The War in Afghanistan (2001-2021) has been a resource for storytelling within various movies over the last decade. Guy Ritchie, known for his extravagant characters and quirky/fun dialogue, is the latest director to set his sights on this genre of filmmaking. From a script collaboration with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, the trio detail a tale of survival and debt repayments through a U.S. Army Sergeant and Afghan interpreter. The war drama offers a new side to Ritchie’s direction, where emotional substance, heroism, and violent sequences are at its core. Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is as sharp on deep human elements as it is with intensity, giving rise to a welcomed change in the director’s repertoire.

The story follows U.S. Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Afghan interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim) after receiving intel on a Taliban factory that serves as an explosive’s hub for its members. The intuitive Ahmed senses an inevitable ambush, which proves to be the start of a dangerous journey of survival. With their backs against the wall, Ahmed goes to great lengths to save Kinley’s life. However, after his recovery and return to the U.S., Kinley learns that Ahmed and his family were not given safe passage to America even though they were promised so. After sleepless nights, Kinley realizes there’s only one thing he can do: He must repay his debt by returning to Afghanistan and fulfill the promise himself.

Dar Salim and Jake Gyllenhaal in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant

Fans of Guy Ritchie as a director will find that this film offers similarities in his traditional storytelling but contains a great balance of substance and heart to carry the story through. The narrative isn’t as lighthearted as some of his previous work, but Ritchie masterfully finds ways to incorporate humor in his dialogue and scenes while amplifying emotionally compelling interactions between the two leads. Gyllenhaal stars as the less-than obedient Sergeant with a hard exterior, presumably because of the loss he’s faced in his role. When Ahmed becomes his interpreter, the two are slow to warm up to one another, mostly due to Kinley’s desire to control all elements of the operations and Ahmed’s natural instincts, which often raises more eyebrows than applause.

The two as individuals make fascinating character studies when it comes to examining the context of survival within war. But it is their budding brotherhood through duty — but mostly humanity — that elevates this story past any standard war drama. Gyllenhaal and Salim share a remarkable chemistry in that regard, with an initial and unusual stoic approach to his character for the former and a mysterious yet charming take for the latter. These juxtaposed characterizations work exceedingly well taking into consideration that the two are fighting for the same thing, for different reasons. And it makes the story that much more compelling when there’s an underlying examination of humanity in a story (and from a filmmaker) that often forgets to include this important element.

Ritchie’s direction is also strong here, as he amplifies his skill for violent sequencing. He showcases scenes in which it appears a nearing positive outcome will occur for Ahmed and John, but the uncertainties of war (and specifically in this case, where an endless headcount of Taliban members flood the scenes) take over, leading to action-packed sequences delivered with perfect intensity. Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is also exemplary in showcasing various elements of war without being overly preachy about either side. This well-balanced approach will do well with many viewers, but the film is also simply an entertaining body of work with great substance.

Despite some small editing issues that can be overlooked, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is the kind of film that the director’s fans have been waiting to see from him. Full of action sequences and an incredibly moving score to pair, this could be the kind of war drama that audiences have been missing. It’s heavy on the violence and anti-war messaging, and contains a beautiful story about survival, humanity, and doing the right thing even when there are countless obstacles in the way.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant releases in theaters on April 21. The film is 123 minutes long and rated R for drug content, violence, and language throughout.

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