Guy Richie’s the Covenant offers a powerful testament to combat camaraderie

Co-writer Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) directs this story of U.S. Army Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his Afghan interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim). After being shipped back to the U.S., Kinley learns Ahmed—who had saved his life in battle—was now endangered himself, so Kinley decides to return to Afghanistan in an unsanctioned mission to rescue Ahmed. (123 min.)

click to enlarge Guy Richie’s the Covenant offers a powerful testament to combat camaraderie
Courtesy photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
BROTHERS IN ARMS After recruiting Ahmed (Dar Salim, below) as his interpreter, U.S. Army Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal, right) and he form an unbreakable bond, in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, screening in local theaters.

Glen: This is without a doubt the best movie I’ve seen this year. I’ve pretty much liked every Ritchie film I’ve seen, but sometimes his work feels lightweight and frivolous, such as his previous film, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. This film, however, is a gut punch—a propulsive war movie of surprising depth that’s most interested in the relationships between the fellow soldiers. When you depend on one another for your very lives, a bond forms, and for a person of integrity, that bond, that agreement to have each other’s back, is paramount. There’s an easy, glib, insouciant banter between Kinley and his fellow soldiers. It comes across as a way to mask the constant fear they must feel. Each and every one of them knows every moment in the field might be their last, and so their bravado is a mask that when stripped away by death leaves them feeling primal. The acting is astounding, and Gyllenhaal and Salim are especially outstanding. There’s one scene in particular that I’ll never forget, but I won’t spoil it here. Go watch this film and see for yourself.

Anna: Gut punch is right! This is the story of invisible ties that happen in this type of relationship. The two aren’t family, they aren’t even friends, but they rely on each other in a way I can’t even fathom. Most of the movie is spent in Ahmed’s tortuous journey to get Kinley back to an air base through Taliban-infested land with a high price on their heads. But Kinley cannot forget the debt he owes, and the last third of the film where we follow his journey back to Ahmed proves to be just as compelling as the action-packed, intense first two thirds. We haven’t been starved for good films as of late, so I’m not sure why this one felt like such a clean, cool drink of water. It was shot with panache and style and the story was rooted in fundamentally human moments. The tragedy of the big picture still held room for the beauty of the small moments. I’m telling everyone who can handle the intensity of war films to see this movie—it is about so much more than a coming home story.

Glen: The battle scenes feel real, in part because of a lot of handheld camera work that makes viewers feel like they’re in it. It’s also worth mentioning that the body count is really high, so if that’s a problem for you, steer clear. I found it gripping, and I’d watch it again. Even though it’s fictional, the story frames itself firmly in the reality of the Afghanistan War and serves as a reminder that we left a lot of interpreters there to face the wrath of the Taliban, which murdered 300 U.S. collaborators after our pullout and sent a thousand more into hiding. We were supposed to be proffering them visas to America, but instead all they got were broken promises. 

Anna: Gyllenhaal is compelling, and Salim proves to be a force. They’re both absolute beasts onscreen. This isn’t a film I can blanket recommend—there’s a lot of damage done here, and it could be a very difficult watch for certain triggers. However, if you can handle the bloodshed, the story that sits behind it is incredibly gripping. This is one of those movies I’ll never say no to watching, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Glen compiles listings. Comment at [email protected].

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