Movie Review: ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’

Movie Review: ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’

(L to R) Dar Salim as Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley in ‘The Covenant,’ directed by Guy Ritchie, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Christopher Raphael / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In theaters now, ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ finds the director operating on a different level from that for which he’s known –– and while it succumbs to schmaltz by the end, it chronicles a story of sacrifice and heroics that mostly succeeds.

“A bond. A pledge. A commitment.”

R2 hr 3 minApr 21st, 2023

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Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant follows US Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Afghan interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim). After an ambush, Ahmed goes to Herculean… Read the Plot

Is ‘The Covenant’ a true story?

The movie is not based on a true story, but the script –– written by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies –– does channel the experiences of a lot of troops and citizens in Afghanistan (and there are images of real-life heroes over the end credits).

‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ follows US Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Afghan interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim). Together with the likes of Charlie “Jizzy” Crow (Sean Sagar), Joshua JJ Jung (Jason Wong), Eduardo ‘Chow Chow’ Lopez (Christian Ochoa) and Tom ‘Tom Cat’ Hancock (Rhys Yates), the squad’s mission is to hunt down and tag Taliban explosives construction locations in Afghanistan so they can be destroyed.

After an ambush, Ahmed goes to Herculean lengths to save Kinley’s life, loading the injured soldier on to a cart and dragging him for days to the nearest US base.

Months after his return home to his wife Caroline (Emily Beecham), Kinley learns that Ahmed and his family were not given safe passage to America as promised and he must repay his debt by returning to the war zone to retrieve them before the Taliban hunts them down first.

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal and director Guy Ritchie on the set of 'The Covenant.'

(L to R) Actor Jake Gyllenhaal and director Guy Ritchie on the set of ‘The Covenant,’ a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Christopher Raphael / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What works about the movie?

Guy Ritchie has long since proved that he’s more than the man who made his career with knockabout crime capers featuring fast-talking Brits. He’s also been behind the likes of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movies (which, admittedly, were knockabout crime capers featuring fast-talking Robert Downey Jr. doing a British accent) and, for a real change of pace, Disney’s live action ‘Aladdin’.

But while he seems more comfortable in his criminal wheelhouse, with ‘The Covenant’ (which we assume added his name to avoid confusion with Renny Harlin’s 2006 supernatural movie), Ritchie aims for a more straightforwardly heroic character piece here. He’s certainly not lost his touch for creative action, he and his team making the battle scenes effective and dramatic, if not always complete shock and awe.

And in his cast, he’s recruited some winners. Gyllenhaal has been in the military mode before, with ‘Jarhead’ (and he’s also played his share of troubled law enforcement types) and here he brings a soulful, stern countenance to Kinley.

The banter between the troops early on also comes across as authentic –– this is a group far from their own families that has bonded into a unit of its own, the shared experiences of combat and chaos keeping them close. There are also some funny exchanges between Kinley and his superior (Jonny Lee Miller’s Colonel Vokes), keeping it real when it comes to the realities of modern warfare.

Salim, meanwhile, keeps Ahmed human, and not a man who needs to ingratiate himself with the troops, but soon does anyway because of his no-nonsense attitude and loyalty. While Kinley initially has his doubts about the man, he’s part of the team even before he goes above and beyond to save the Sergeant’s life.

Shooting in Alicante, Spain, the movie certainly looks authentic, though beyond Ahmed and one or two examples on his extended rescue mission, it doesn’t go all that far into portraying the native population in a well-rounded way.

Dar Salim as Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley in The Covenant.'

(L to R) Dar Salim as Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley in The Covenant,’ directed by Guy Ritchie, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Christopher Raphael / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Related Article: Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim Talk Making ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’

Basic Heroics

And basic might be the most apt description for the movie as a whole.

Perhaps the biggest issue is how the story itself plays out –– don’t go in for any major surprises here. This is far from the most complicated story of the year, and if you’re expecting it to go in a shocking direction, we’d caution that this is not the direction that Ritchie and co. are shooting for.

It’s also straight down the line in terms of its characters –– Ahmed is probably the most careful sketched person here, and that includes Kinley.

Nothing here will change minds about America’s presence in Afghanistan nor about the actions of the Taliban, and the sides are hardly more than loosely portrayed, black and white with few shades of gray in between.

Pacing is also an issue: so much running time is devoted to the initial mission and the rescue that Kinley’s return to Afghanistan starts to feel more like an afterthought than a solid third act. Even with the addition of characters such as Antony Starr’s Special Forces operative Eddie Parker (who aids Kinley in his desperate dash to find and save Ahmed), the final section pales in comparison to the rest.

There is also the matter of the final tone. The director and his cast can talk all they like about an unsentimental look at this sort of story, but a final montage goes so far into sentiment, you can almost imagine cutting to a slowly waving flag while a group of veterans somberly hold their caps to their chests, single tears running down their faces.

The story –– and particularly the dynamic between Ahmed and Kinley – are more powerful than the ending, and honestly deserve better.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley in 'The Covenant,'

Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley in ‘The Covenant,’ directed by Guy Ritchie, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Christopher Raphael / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Final Thoughts

‘The Covenant’ isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind about the nature of war or America’s involvement in it. But its focus is more on celebrating the small moments of humanity that can spring up in the face of overwhelming odds and in the worst situations. If this is what Ritchie can produce when he’s trying new things, then he should certainly keep branching out.

‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ receives 7 out of 10 stars.

Dar Salim as Ahmed, Jason Wong as Joshua

(L to R) Dar Salim as Ahmed, Jason Wong as Joshua “JJ Jung”, Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley, Christian Ochoa as Eduardo “Chow Chow” Lopez, and Rhys Yates as Tom “Tom Cat” Hancock in ‘The Covenant,’ directed by Guy Ritchie, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Christopher Raphael / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ is produced by STX Entertainment, and Toff Guy Films. It is scheduled to release in theaters on April 21st, 2023.

#Movie #Review #Guy #Ritchies #Covenant

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