Set in 2018 during the war in Afghanistan, US army Sergent John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team are conducting vehicle checks. As the team’s interpreter is examining a truck, an improvised explosive device (IED) is set off resulting in his death.
Later back at base, Kinley is introduced to a new interpreter, Ahmed Abdullah (Dar Salim). Ahmed is incredibly stubborn and set in his ways not respecting the chain of command. He is also ridiculously good at his job, able to see through deceptions and predict ambushes. As he says, he is not just a translator, he is an interpreter. His job is to know how the Afghani people think and to act accordingly.
On the hunt for IEDs, Kinley’s team are one day overwhelmed by Taliban fighters resulting in Kinley and Ahmed fighting for their lives. When Kinley is gravely injured Ahmed begins an impossibly selfless task, carrying a dying man back over 100kms of hostile territory.
For Kinley, being dragged across 100kms of desert will be the easy part. The hard part will be paying Ahmed back. But John Kinley is a man who repays his debts.
Guy Ritchie has a filmmaker has been through many phases. Most remember him for his light-hearted British gangster flicks but he has branched out to massive Hollywood epics over the last decade. While a huge fan, I find his tendency to rely on trademark editing and pointless non-linearity to often be a shortcoming. But I must admit that along with 2021’s Wrath of Man, I am absolutely loving his current run of dead-serious gritty action thrillers!
The Covenant is only 2 hours long; however, the specific 3 act structure makes it feel like an epic. I mean this in a good way, as the story reinvents itself multiple times throughout its runtime. It at one point feels like a standard modern war movie before becoming a nose to the ground nail-biting story of endurance, only for it to surprise yet again by becoming a deep character piece on the horrors of PTSD and survivor’s guilt.
While sporting an impressive cast of supporting actors including Jason Wong, Emily Beecham, and Jonny Lee Miller, The Covenant is very much a film with two leads. Top billed Jake Gyllenhaal gives perhaps his most intense performance since Nightcrawler. We see Kinley turn from a confident commanding officer to a man completely destroyed by the loss of the men under him and fuelled by a deep need to honour them in the only way he can.
But it is Dar Salim who absolutely blows us away as the honourable Ahmed. Already well known in Denmark, the Iraqi born actor turns in what should prove to be a star making performance. As the story shifts focus, the weight of the whole film is on his shoulders. As Ahmed is a man with a questionable past, he fights with everything he must do what is right.
The Covenant is still a war film and the technical side of it is top notch. Ritchie here once again collaborating with Oscar winning composer Christopher Benstead, bringing the same deep harmonies which made Wrath of Man such a haunting film. Likewise, the sound design throughout is impeccable as booming gunshots echo across a battlefield. This is a film which takes advantage of a high-end home surround sound system.
One might find the lack of any strong political stance in a film with such a setting unusual, as this isn’t a movie about the war in Afghanistan, in that sense at least. Instead, the message of Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is a very human one of doing the right thing and helping those who have helped us.
Deviating in tone and lacking many of his usual trademarks, this is another very different Guy Ritchie movie. But with two brilliant lead performances and a captivating narrative, this just may be one of his best yet.
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant will be available on streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime from June 16.