Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (or simply The Covenant) is a 2023 American action thriller film co-written, produced and directed by Guy Ritchie. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim. Its plot follows John Kinley, a U.S. military sergeant, and Ahmed, his Afghan interpreter, fighting the Taliban.
When I first saw the trailer for The Covenant I was hopeful that it would turn out as a good viewing experience. After seeing additional material I immediately knew that I wasn’t going to like this movie much. My hunch was correct. I got the feeling there was going to be an inconsistent story, and the director wouldn’t know how to handle the subject matter. Honestly, there is a lot of complex subject matter to tackle with regards to the War in Afghanistan. Was he going to make it a muscular action flick, as he’s known for or would he tackle how Biden screwed up the American pullout and the lives lost in Afghanistan? Quite a few movie critics enjoyed the film.
Here’s the thing, Jake Gyllenhaal always does a great job in films but he wasn’t used well here. Nor are the team-mates used well that we get introduced to, because they are all killed early on in the film. We never get a sense that Kinley loses something. There is no relationship built; we don’t get funny dialogue or profound shared pain. Even though we understand that he becomes injured we really don’t sympathize with him nor his mission to get back safe.
The movie unfolds as a contemplative, self-aware narrative centered around John Kinley (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a rugged American Sergeant, and his observant Afghan translator, Ahmed (portrayed by Dar Salim). Their daily lives are defined by an unspoken agreement: through Ahmed’s perilous work, which places him at grave risk from the Taliban, he and his family, including his wife and child, hope to secure visas to the United States. The Covenant could have excelled as a subdued and tightly-woven character drama, probing America’s role in the Middle-East and the people affected by war, particularly interpreters abandoned by the US military, however it seemed to bounce between drama and all-out outrageous action film.
Jake Gyllenhaal does his best to carry the weight of Ritchie’s inconsistent tone. However, there’s a limit to what he can accomplish as the director steers The Covenant closer to James Bond territory. The explosions become grander, slow-motion scenes grow more protracted, and bullets appear to travel impossibly far in a final set piece atop a dam, departing from the firm realism established in the film’s first half. An AC-130 gunship kills loads of bad guys, akin to an angel of death, to aid Kinley and Ahmed; viewers are left to grapple with mixed emotions – gratitude for the overwhelming firepower on display or a rightful sense of horror. From the very beginning of the movie we get a sense of how dangerous life is for them daily.
We view the ever-present dangers faced by the characters. In an opening scene, Kinley and his team, specialists in recovering explosives and weapons of mass destruction, conduct roadside inspections. Their translator’s attempt to coax an Afghan truck driver into revealing his cargo ends tragically with a bomb detonation, claiming the lives of the translator and two other soldiers. When Ahmed steps in to fill the void, his apparent indifference might surprise the audience – the job is merely a paycheck to him. It becomes clear later that Ahmed is more committed to undermining the Taliban than he initially lets on.