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Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant


‘…the film’s second half, largely focused Killing Fields-style on Kinney’s attempts to rescue Ahmed, is the exact opposite of the casual betrayal which took place in real life…’

Yes, that’s Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, not Renny Harlin’s 2006 horror The Covenant, or even Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant; apparently the director’s name is such a brand that it can be used as metadata to distinguish this particular covenant from previous inferior products. But this handsome 2023 war drama, bypassing UK cinemas and dropping direct to streaming on Amazon Prime after some US success, doesn’t feel much like the usual geezerish Toffboy production; Ritchie has been prolific of late, with The Gentlemen, Wrath of Man, Operation Fortune: Ruse du Guerre and The Covenant all dropping since the pandemic started, and this latest film is his most mature and restrained yet.

The Covenant is a violent, crowd-pleasing story that isn’t based on any true incident, but reflects friendship between American military personnel and the Afghan translators who worked with them during the twenty year occupation that followed the Sept 11th attacks. Kicking off with Zager and Evans’ In The Year 2525, US Army Special Forces Sergeant John Kinney (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his interpreter due to a lorry-bomb in 2018, and finds a potential replacement in the form of super-tough Ahmed Abdullah (Dar Salim), whose background is in the heroin trade; he hates the Taliban for killing his son. Having found tracking down the enemy to be like ‘shifting sand in a sandbox’ Kinney comes to rely on Ahmed’s local knowledge to get results, although his US Army superiors turn a blind eye to their methods. And it’s Ahmed ‘The Oracle’ who guides Kinney to safety in arduous fashion after the American is injured in a ‘Tali kill-box’, creating a bond between the two men that Kinney is unwilling to forget.

The Covenant not only looks good, but as a literate, salty script that feels lived in; soldiers discuss their orders from ‘head orifice’, Ahmed is described as having ‘four languages that are worth speaking’ and the shorthand sentiment of Kinney’s emotionally repressed video-chat with wife Caroline (Emily Beecham) is well-caught. Kinney himself starts by calling Ahmed ‘Achmed’, and is swiftly corrected, and the Afghan archly points out the difference between assumption and deduction; he’s not there to translate but to interpret. The men form a bond, a pledge and a commitment, but it’s a debt that ‘demands a result, not an appeasement’. There’s lots of tension as Ahmed smuggles Kinney amongst rugs, inadvertently picking up Taliban hitch-hikers along the way, and the big finale gives us the kind of large-scale visceral action that true-stories rarely provide.

So what’s wrong with The Covenant? While the closing credits emphasise how quickly Afghan interpreters and their people were forgotten about by the US, in a deal dictated by a foreign policy was shaped by the need to create business for golf courses than any kind of morality, that’s not really included in the story here. In fact, The Covenant plays as hero worship for Kinney and Ahmed, and the film’s second half, largely focused Killing Fields-style on Kinney’s attempts to rescue Ahmed, is the exact opposite of the casual betrayal which took place in real life. The Covenant is a very well made war movie that entertains and informs, but somehow lacks the guts to attempt to hold to account those responsible for the lasting damage that this particular bit of FUBAR global police-work has caused to America’s worldwide geo-political reputation.


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    • Yep, firmly recommended for Saturday night action, a good, solid movie despite my misgivings.

        • Agreed. Easy to blame this squarely on Trump’s derangement, but there’s no such excuses for UK or subsequent US policy. I guess the film-makers can say that’s not the film that they made, and it feels like they’re on the right side, but I expected the film to deal with this is something more than the end credits. Still, an intense, gripping film that does shed some light on the predicament of those caught in the crossfire.

    • It’s an a American nightmare when you put a deranged media figure front and centre of your moral universe. Too many lives lost to be funny.

        • Always in a political and cranky mood. I’ve spent time in war zones and you are entirely dependent on local people risking their lives to protect you. Real life ain’t like the movies, there are genuine, awful consequences. It currently looks like the Republicans are going to throw this and all future elections down the toilet to appease a non-political greed merchant, and that’s bad for balance all round. It’s not political to respect and value human lives, and that was generally the norm until a non political media figure changed that in 2016. You have to figure out for yourself who benefits from Trump, but this struggle isn’t about partisan issues; it’s about the big money fascism that has infused Republican AND Democratic parties since 2001. Much as Ritchie Rich is a great film, and having a McDonalds at home is one American dream, I’m cranky every day to see what America had been reduced to. You deserve better than the political representation you have.

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