As intense, thrilling, and emotional as war thrillers get.
I was right when I said that “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” would be better than his last entry “Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre.” Miles ahead to be exact, especially when he directs a war movie about a US Army Sergeant and an Afghan translator both escaping from the Taliban. And you get such universally excellent performances from the two leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim (“Game of Thrones,” “The Devil’s Double”), who both know the stakes of this particular genre, as does Ritchie.
I’m pretty sure moviegoers will see this movie, which takes place during the War in Afghanistan, especially since we have vets in the audience and even people who don’t serve love American heroes. In this case, there’s both an American hero and an Afghan hero. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Gyllenhaal plays the US Army Sergeant John Kinley, while Salim plays his new translator Ahmed, because the last one was killed during an attack. The former acts as the authority figure towards the latter, who proves to be worthier than John anticipates. Ahmed prevents he and his men from going into one ambush, while he helps John get out of another. John gets shot and knocked down, and he can barely stay awake or remember what exactly happened. So Ahmed has to drag him across the mountains to avoid the Taliban, until he can find John’s army for help.
Weeks later, John wants to return the favor by getting Ahmed and his family Visas to get out of that country and here in America. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because John has to go all “Punch Drunk Love” on the phones when he’s out on hold, he has to make uplifting speeches, and he has to avoid as much terrorists as possible.
Gyllenhaal has starred in war movies before, like “Jarhead” and the American remake of “Brothers,” and he sure has the age, beard, and depth of a sergeant who develops such a friendship that he risks his life for him. He knows how to scream on the phone, set his tone straight, and really get into character. But he doesn’t take full credit of “The Covenant.” I’ve never heard of Salim before, but I do see him portraying this Afghan character, who wishes to escape from the evils in his country, and develops a friendship with John.
Some of the terrorist attacks becomes repetitive, but Ritchie handles them with realism and danger. It’s a thriller for good reasons. He also tells a good story with some help from Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, and lives up to the standards of “Lone Survivor” or “Brothers,” for example. I’m saying he wants to make a movie set during the War in Afghanistan with pure emotions and edge-of-your-seat thrills without them overlapping one another. It’s miles ahead of the 2018 Chris Hemsworth vehicle “12 Strong.”
Thinking back to “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” and “The Covenant,” which are both released this year, I must say there is a distinction between how Ritchie directs and presents these films. The former was a real missed opportunity with basically the same formulas as his other crime capers, while the latter allows him to expand his horizons as a filmmaker. He’s a genius who knows the right kind of style and casting choices. And him working with Gyllenhaal for the first time proves he has versatility. Time to step outside your comfort zone, Ritchie.