‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ – Review

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant could have been a great, honest depiction of the insincerity of American exceptionalism if the film had kept the momentum of the first hour. Unfortunately, the film becomes an action flick much like we’re used to from Ritchie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim deliver great performances in a film that doesn’t live up to either of their talents. 

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, on the surface, is quite a different film from writer-director Guy Ritchie than we’re used to. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t maintain the focus of a serious character study or exploration of American exceptionalism as one could hope. When the film is more focused on being a quiet, stern drama dialing in on America’s failed promises to Afghanistan and its people, the film truly does work and feels like a step forward for Ritchie as a filmmaker. However, as the film sets deeper into its runtime, it loses focus and becomes an all-out combat film. 

The film follows Master Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his perceptive Afghan translator Ahmed (Dar Salim) in 2018 as they build an intense relationship in Afghanistan. Ahmed replaces Kinley’s recently deceased translator, and their working relationship gets off to a tumultuous start after Kinley discovers Ahmed kept his history with the Taliban a secret. When an operation goes tremendously bad, resulting in the deaths of their entire team, just Kinley and Ahmed are left. The two form an unbreakable bond over shared trauma as they make their way back to base while being hunted by Taliban forces. 

There are frequent cutaways to the Taliban leaders ordering their forces to keep going after the men and they feel a bit caricature-like at times and weaken the impact of the more serious moments. However, it is riveting when all noise dissipates, and you’re left with the quiet reality facing the two men. When Kinley is seriously injured, Gyllenhaal truly delivers in conveying to the audience just how painful and serious the situation is. As Ahmed must then carry Kinley the rest of their journey back to base, Salim now carries the weight of both his costar and the film itself.

This is where Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant truly loses its momentum as we eventually follow Kinley back to the states rather than staying with Ahmed, the more interesting character and storyline. The script should be ensuring we feel the full weight of the helplessness Kinley is feeling before taking matters into his own hands by going back to Afghanistan to find and help Ahmed. The film’s emotional mark feels off as we deeply feel for Ahmed, his family, and their safety; however, we are only with Kinley as he ventures back.

There is a commendable attempt to reflect on the interpreters who have gone essentially abandoned by the United States government after they use them to get what they need from the countries they find themselves in, but this effort is undercut by the way Ahmed is largely demoted in the story by a lack of understanding and respect that is given to his home and family. The relationship between Ahmed and Kinley is inherently unequal as one of the men must continue to live in Afghanistan with the consequences of what the men carry out together. Kinley will be able to leave and go home, and he will obviously carry the trauma with him for his life, but the danger remains something that Ahmed will not be able to leave behind but must face day to day. 

No matter how much Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant credits itself to be saying something more, this is a film that is predominantly focused on action sequences. The performances attempt to give the film some emotional weight, but they are undone at nearly every turn until the film arrives at a tense conclusion. The characters ultimately all get lost in the commotion of the hollow CGI spectacle-driven finale. 

Grade: C-

Oscars Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: None

Where to Watch: In Theaters

Kenzie Vanunu
she/her @kenzvanunu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
Sign: Capricorn

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