Gerard Butler Delivers Another Reliable Action Flick

May 26, 2023

Director Ric Roman Waugh (National Champions) is no stranger to action movies starring Gerard Butler (Law Abiding Citizen). Kandahar is the duo’s third film together, and they have continued making serviceable action flicks for a little over half a decade now. Butler seems to have settled into his role as an action movie star, whether it’s in theaters or on demand. The result is a career that has perhaps not lived up to the promise of 300 but has certainly stayed relevant longer than the average career that took off in 2007. Kandahar’s script lives in a morally gray area, but the filmmaking is proficient enough to keep audiences engaged.

Undercover CIA agent Tom Harris (Butler) is tasked with infiltrating and killing targets in the Middle East. His current assignment finds him posing as a telecommunications engineer tasked with upgrading the internet capabilities in Afghanistan. The first part of his mission is a success and the target is taken out while keeping his cover intact. Tom’s handler, played by Travis Fimmel (Vikings) convinces him to forgo his flight home and stick around for phase two. However, when a journalist is caught receiving classified intel, the CIA is caught flatfooted and Tom is stuck between a rocket launcher and a hard place. But to finish the mission and get home alive he will need the help and guidance of his translator Mohammed (Navid Negahban).

Butler has one of the most fascinating careers in Hollywood. His willingness to be in popcorn fodder but still anchor the Olympus Has Fallen franchise is admirable. Butler doesn’t bring anything to the role of Tom Harris that another actor couldn’t have, but the inverse is also true. Either Kandahar would not have been made or it would have been worse without his presence. In the grand scheme of Butler’s filmography, Kandahar is a step above Geostorm but well below Den of Thieves. Mitchell LaFortune’s script is nothing special, but it does have the good sense to toe the line of war film and white savior trope.

By the film’s end, Butler and Negahban are on a fast track to a movie we have seen all too many times — a white man in a foreign land who saves a sympathetic person of color. But Kandahar reads the room and does not set up Butler’s character as a superhuman shooting his way through any obstacle. Similarly, Negahban’s character is not a perfect man himself and actually responds to moments of crisis the way you might think a human being would. In the final showdown, both men are chained and Tom’s handler releases him. When he insists they have to go back for Negahban, his handler doesn’t even flinch. It’s these small nuances that differentiate Kandahar from a much lesser version of itself.

The performances in Kandahar are all engaging, and even the supporting cast is filled out with actors that make the composition of the film complete. Specifically, the two opposing agents who are the cat to Butler’s mouse are crushing it in every scene they are in. Bahador Foladi portrays the straight-laced but ultimately corrupt government official and Ali Fazal plays the rogue with a heart of gold. Their contributions to the film make for an environment that fosters gravitas and elevates the stakes in all their scenes.

Cinematographer MacGregor does a great job setting up scenes with beautiful wide shots that go from glorious to devastating given the source material. And the direction and writing are on par with the film’s premise. Kandahar won’t knock your socks off, but it offers a solid story that doesn’t try to be something it isn’t.

Kandahar is now playing in theaters. The film is 119 minutes long and rated R for violence and language.

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