"Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Alexander Ludwig, Antony Starr, Jason Wong, and Jonny Lee Miller. Released on April 21, 2023, the film has a U.S. sergeant returning to Afghanistan to rescue his interpreter who saved his life.
The film was directed by Guy Ritchie, who also directed films such as "Snatch", "Sherlock Holmes", "The Gentlemen", and "Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre". It's no secret that everyone is expendable regarding the harsh reality of war. However, "expendable" isn't in this particular sergeant's dictionary. Guy Ritchie got off to a rough start this year with last month's spy comedy "Operation Fortune". It's not without its entertaining moments, like the cast and action, but it was an okay movie I wouldn't remember in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, audiences might have felt the same way as the film failed to recoup its $50 million budget. This weekend sees the director hoping to recover from this mild blow with an action war thriller involving a rescue mission in Afghanistan. With that said, let's head into dangerous territory and see if the film can capture the intensity of this rescue attempt.
The story centers on John Kinley (Gyllenhaal), a sergeant working in the U.S. Army during the War in Afghanistan. Kinley is tasked with a dangerous mission involving recruiting interpreter Ahmed (Salim) to communicate with the local Afghans. However, Ahmed only accepts because he seeks revenge against the Taliban for the death of his son. Kinley and his platoon are eventually caught off guard by the Taliban's ambush, resulting in Kinley and Ahmed going on the run. After getting captured by the Taliban, Ahmed saved Kinley from his fate and safely took him back to his base. However, after returning to the United States, Kinley later learns that Ahmed is pursued by the Taliban back in Afghanistan for treason against the country. With no one responding to this troubling issue, Kinley travels back to Afghanistan to rescue Ahmed, who risked his life for a stranger.
I've watched enough movies from Guy Ritchie to know his style and influential filmmaking. In addition to his approach to British comedy, Ritchie is known for providing thrilling action scenes that utilize fast cuts, unique camera angles, and slow motion. That alone was one of the reasons I enjoyed his other action films like "Sherlock Holmes" and "Operation Fortune" despite their issues. So I had a feeling I would feel the same way toward "The Covenant", which has the director tackling its war themes and the U.S. Army instead of working with spies and criminals in the United Kingdom.
"The Covenant" is another film where Ritchie displays a more grounded and realistic approach to the action genre than some of his quirky stylized ones. While it's fun to see Ritchie play around with his unique style and charismatic characters, it's also intriguing to watch the filmmaker use his talents to provide down-to-Earth and thrilling narratives. He once did it with "Wrath of Man" in 2021, and even though that movie was surprisingly underwhelming, it occasionally compensates with Ritchie's refreshingly grim style. This made me expect "The Covenant" to resemble the Jason Statham-led remake of the 2004 French thriller regarding its tone. Fortunately, it deservedly met my expectation thanks to the film's well-executed approach to its straightforward plot and war-related thrills.
I think Ritchie's direction works better for "The Covenant" than "Wrath of Man" because of how it handles the character-driven elements amid its war action sequences. This movie is a bit more dramatic than action-packed, so it is best to keep your expectations low if you're expecting another energetic and mindless action bonanza. While it does make the film slow-paced sometimes, it didn't reach the point of boredom for me, mainly because of the actors and solid dialogue. The dramatic elements are compelling enough to keep me engaged until the bullets start flying again, even if its screenplay by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies doesn't revolutionize the genre. Additionally, it offers a couple of filmmaking tools that Ritchie is known for in his other movies, such as the slow-motion shots and camera angles. Instead of displaying them just for show, Ritchie effectively used them to portray its gripping and dramatic storytelling.
Returning to the film's screenplay, "The Covenant" is straightforward. However, at its core, it's an effortful portrayal of how the war affects a country and its beliefs, particularly Afghanistan, in which the Taliban seek to find and kill its own people for cooperating with the U.S. Army. More importantly, it's also a mildly inspiring tale about a sergeant's promise to help those seeking freedom from being caught in the middle of that war. The term "covenant" means making a commitment or promise, so it's basically a movie about fulfilling that commitment despite the consequences and dangers that lie ahead. With its solid thematic depth and tension, "The Covenant" is another thriller that makes good use of its simple premise.
But, of course, the movie wouldn't be more engaging without its cast of talented actors. Jake Gyllenhaal shines once more regarding his grounded performance as John Kinley. Gyllenhaal is another actor who never fails to impress me with his dramatic turns, even the ones involving plenty of gunfire, whether his films are great or mediocre. His role in "The Covenant" is no different, as his commitment to portraying a sergeant burns bright amid its tone. Dar Salim also did very well with his performance as Ahmed, an interpreter and loving father, and Alexander Ludwig was decent as Declan O'Brady. I will also mention that Antony Starr from "The Boys" is also in the movie, but only in its second half. Starr plays Eddie Parker, who helps John accomplish the search-and-rescue mission in Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, his performance in "The Covenant" showed signs that his brilliant work as Homelander from the R-rated superhero series paid off for him. If you haven't already, you should definitely check out "The Boys" unless you dislike graphic violence and language.
The action sequences mainly consist of gunfights because, of course, they are. What else did you expect from the war? Despite its R-rating, the violence is restrained instead of displaying graphic brutalities and bloody deaths. However, that doesn't make it less intense than the other adult-rated action movies. The restrained direction would've posed a risk of the movie being underwhelming, but Ritchie managed to make it work with his balance of realism and style. Regarding its serviceable editing and tension, Ritchie portrays the dangerous reality of being inside Afghanistan territory while providing the engaging genre thrills audiences come to expect.
Overall, "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" blasts past its standard action genre affair to deliver a compelling and tension-filled thriller that's both intense and effectively dramatic. It's a grounded war thriller that benefits from the direction and engaging action sequences. However, it also works as a well-acted war drama that honors the brave soldiers going far and beyond to keep their pledges to help people during the war. With its talented cast, decent screenplay, Ritchie's direction, and captivating action, the film is the director's best work since 2019's "The Gentlemen". But, of course, that's because I haven't watched his earlier films like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch". Maybe someday I'll get to those movies before watching Ritchie's next intriguing project. If you're a fan of war thrillers and enjoy the director's other movies, this film is worth checking out.