Guy Ritchie’s “The Covenant” is a departure from his usual style of filmmaking, focusing on the story of Afghan allies who served as interpreters for American troops and were promised visas for themselves and their families if they survived. The film features some of the most impressively staged extended battle sequences in recent memory, with moments so intense that audiences will be on the edge of their seats.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Sergeant John Kinley, a world-weary, battle-tested but still passionate leader of a small squad tasked with finding IEDs, aka Improvised Explosive Devices. After a bomb kills Kinley’s Afghan interpreter, he selects a local mechanic named Ahmed Abdullah (Dar Salim) to take the job. Ahmed has no particular interest in the American cause, but he hates the Taliban because they killed his son. He takes this job for the instant cash and for the promise of one day obtaining visas that will allow him, his wife and their soon-to-be-born child to come to America.
Gyllenhaal and Salim make for an electric pairing from the start, playing men from two different worlds who are bound by a code of honor. The film becomes a harrowing, nerve-wracking survival adventure, with Ahmed employing a variety of improvised strategies and testing the extreme limits of his endurance as he traverses the unforgiving terrain and back roads in a Herculean effort to return to the Bagram Air Base, even as every available Taliban is hunting them down.
The film also examines the bureaucracy and red tape faced by Kinley as he tries to enlist his government’s help in tracking down Ahmed and his family and making good on the promise of safe passage to America. Despite the manipulation of emotions in the final act, audiences will root for these two men to survive one last and seemingly impossible mission. They’ve been through unspeakable horrors, these two. They may not ever find peace, but they deserve a long and safe rest.
Overall, “The Covenant” is a topical, suspenseful, and moving war movie that showcases Ritchie’s filmmaking skills in a different light. While some critics argue that the film’s final act veers into tired action-flick histrionics, the performances of Gyllenhaal and Salim, as well as the poignant themes of sacrifice and commitment, make the film a worthwhile watch.