Monday, 24 June 2024

‘The Covenant’ forges a resolute bond of wartime loyalty


Set in war-torn Afghanistan in 2018, “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is more than a war story, and most likely not something you would expect from the director of films such as “Snatch,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

Danger lurks in the Taliban-occupied portion of a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia. US Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) heads up a special unit with an unenviable mission.

Bagram Air Base in the Parwan Province looks like a vacation spot compared to Kinley’s posting to an area under Taliban control, as his team is tasked with finding enemy munitions and explosive storage sites.

During a routine search at a vehicle checkpoint, two of Kinley’s unit are killed by a truck bomb, including his Afghan interpreter, who is replaced with Ahmed (Dar Salim), a man who speaks four languages and candidly admits he’s in it for the money.

More than finances are at stake for the new interpreter. Ahmed’s son was killed by the Taliban, and his allegiance is to those countrymen who harbor bitterness or distaste for the terrorist thugs.

The relationship between Kinley and Ahmed is a little tricky. At first, Kinley harbors suspicions about his new interpreter, who makes it clear that he is not a verbatim translator because his skill is to interpret every situation.

When approaching a suspect building, Ahmed informs Kinley they won’t find any weapons inside, claiming to know what goes on behind the closed doors. They search anyway, only to find an opium den.

More searches prove unfruitful, and Kinley becomes frustrated on his last tour of duty and takes his concerns to his superior, Colonel Vokes (Jonny Lee Miller), who basically tells him to follow his gut instincts.

Things get more serious when Ahmed proves his worth by steering Kinley and his unit away from a trap that another interpreter has set just as they are about to travel into the middle of a Taliban ambush.

After returning to the base for a break, Kinley and his team head out on a grueling journey to arrive at a mine that is suspected to be a large weapons cache. Kinley and his men are overwhelmed by a Taliban assault.

Only Kinley and Ahmed survive the attack and manage to escape in a Taliban truck. After a breakdown, they are forced to flee on foot into the forest. In a hide-and-seek deadly game with the enemy, Kinley and Ahmed manage to kill some of their pursuers.

With the odds against them, Kinley and Ahmed are spotted after resting for the night in an abandoned home. Kinley is shot in the arm and leg, and then gets rescued by Ahmed.

At this point, Ahmed has already proved his skill at killing the enemy, and turns his attention to fashioning a makeshift sled to drag the wounded Kinley through treacherous terrain.

A series of circumstances put both Kinley and Ahmed in mortal danger, but the Afghan native is determined to get the American sergeant back to the Bagram Air Base.

Once back in the United States and reunited with his family, Kinley can think of nothing else than repaying a debt to Ahmed and his family who had been promised safe passage to America.

Returning as a private citizen to Afghanistan, Kinley seeks the help of military contractor Parker (Antony Starr) to extricate Ahmed and his family. The extraction turns out to be the biggest firefight of the journey for the former sergeant and his interpreter.

Watching “The Covenant” may stir uncomfortable memories of how the subsequent ill-fated withdrawal from Afghanistan proved to be a disaster not only for the United States but even more so for those left behind.

In case one is not thinking about the ramifications of a 20-year slog in hostile territory, the film’s end credits note how thousands of interpreters were abandoned to a dire fate, especially when the Taliban took full control of the country.

More than just a war movie, Ritchie’s foray into new territory focuses in an admirable way on the lives of two disparate war-weary men who stand for honor, valor, and loyalty, which are noble character traits seemingly in short supply today.

Though the brutality and inhumanity of war is not absent, the director is far more interested in telling the story of complex, fascinating human beings that are placed in trying circumstances.

Guy Ritchie has taken a gamble on a war film that he has acknowledged is his favorite genre and how he had tried for a long time to find a story that appealed to him.

Whatever one’s feelings about the subject of war, “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is a film worth seeing for the humanity of multifaceted characters grappling with the emotions of duty, honor, and service in challenging situations.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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