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Home > Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (2023), A Review

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (2023), A Review

The Covenant

A Solid Bond With Substance

Covenant: a bond, promise, or agreement between two parties; unfortunately, Guy Ritchie’s film of the same name can’t balance the two tonal dimensions of this action-thriller. It is a marriage between a pensive introspection of the Afghan War blended with grisly, vigorous combat. The result is a well-intentioned but solid action flick that could’ve been greater.

Two Men, One Commitment

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant follows U.S. Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Afghan interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim). The film consists of two parts: when hunting for an I.E.D. factory, they are ambushed in hostile territory, and Ahmed must make a heroic bid to rescue Kinley from the hands of the Taliban to lead them both to safety. In the latter half, Kinley learns that Ahmed and his family were not provided visas to America as promised and are running from the Taliban. The honor-bound Kinley then goes to great lengths to repay the life debt he owes his brother-in-arms before the Taliban locate him.

The film’s greatest strength is its portrayal of the dichotomy between the two men in their approaches to the field, histories, and livelihoods. While neither is free of hardship, the depiction of Ahmed’s circumstances is certainly a grim window into the lives of the Afghani people, as their livelihoods are reduced to rubble by the ceaseless conflict and the land is soaked in blood. At the crux of the film’s first half, there is a skilfully executed power reversal between Kinley and Ahmed in a tense scene as the arduous journey to safety hits its turning point. While the relationship between the duo isn’t that of friends, the nature of their brotherhood is an unspoken, compassionate, and human respect that drives them to aid each other. Kinley plainly states, “It has a hook in me, one that you cannot see, but it is there!”.

An Imperfect Bond

In this fraternity, there is an imbalance in the performances of the leads. Dar Salim, as Ahmed, is the anchor that grounds this film with his impeccable display of a calm, cool stoicism balanced by glimpses of reluctant and exasperated outbursts and subtle conveyances in his body language of said emotion. Offsetting this is a rather turbulent performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal is undoubtedly an outstanding actor with a great range, but something at odds with him in this film hampers him. Perhaps it’s the tonal inconsistencies and occasions of weak dialogue in the script, the unconvincing portrayal of the archetype that is called for the role, or even unreliable direction. There are moments in the film where there is a tangible feeling of stiffness or awkwardness in Gyllenhaal’s delivery. That is not to say that the performance is bad; during scenes that call for quietude or brevity, he pulls it off with ease. Regardless, like the rest of the cast, Gyllenhaal is serviceable and fulfills his purpose in the role.

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The Covenant‘s portrait of the Afghan War is a fascinating illustration of how interpreters were utilized as dispensable tools of war that, though providing an invaluable service and possessing human vulnerabilities, were treated as subordinate assets that only acted on command. However, there is conflict in the stylization that doesn’t harmonize, undermining the fraught drama and the thematic reflection on U.S. intervention and bureaucracy. Mixing contemporary tropes of the 21st-century war drama and veering into action fluff sacrifices the more interesting psychological aspects, which wouldn’t be too distracting if the film had the charm to pull it off. But, it doesn’t and becomes encumbered with conventional action hero ornamentation and machismo.

It Tugs and Perseveres

But there is still a “hook” that refuses to let go and carries the audience through its rough terrain to a satisfying but cliched conclusion. Apart from the noted positives, some sound design and cinematography sequences add rawness and psychological zeal. The lens’ sweeping motions across arid vistas, the unflinching tracking of action, and rickety shifts in scenes of intensity; compounded atop this is a swelling score that also finds time for hush or dusty desert winds, giving it a visceral quality. In one scene, Kinley, suffering from post-trauma stress nightmares, is struck by a strenuous procession of memories in a trance-like, hallucinogenic fervor. Its haunting and palpable close-ups and the attentiveness to Ahmed with an almost ghostly reverence are a spectacle to behold.

In his latest cinematic offering, Guy Ritchie delivers a compelling and engaging drama, albeit not without its imperfections. Nevertheless, The Covenant also serves as a poignant reflection on a bygone era that merits a closer examination. Like Kinley, those responsible for the welfare and safety of the valiant interpreters’ lives should be troubled by the thought that these Afghani were abandoned and mercilessly tossed into a den of lions. Those brave enough to act as interpreters or translators weren’t simply expendable instruments but human beings too, and the film deserves some credit for concluding on that note.

The Covenant is out now in theaters.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (2023) | MGM | Official Trailer

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Author

Adam Z. Matthews
Adam Matthews is a writer at heart who wants to share his love of the peculiar and strange with others. Having completed an MFA in Creative Writing from the American College Dublin and an M.Phil in Screenwriting from Trinity College Dublin, he hopes to carve a path to making storytelling his career. If he were to be reincarnated, he would want to be a 1940s LA private investigator.