March 26, 2023 – It seems like a simple idea, you owe a debt, you pay the price, but in real life, there are complications, as there were when the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan came to chaotic conclusions. This movie, called “Guy Ritchie's The Covenant,” or just “The Covenant,” is about one man who decides to pay his debt, even though his country, the United States, didn't pay its own debts to its allies in Afghanistan.
This movie looks like it was based on a true story. It is not, unfortunately. This is more like one of Quentin Tarantino's alternate history movies (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” or “Inglourious Basterds”). In this fictional movie, the U.S. paid its debt to an ally. In real life, the United States should have kept its promises to all the people of Afghanistan who worked in support of U.S. Forces in the war. Instead, thousands of them were left behind to be hunted and killed by the Taliban after the U.S. withdrew from the country.
In this story, a U.S. soldier, John Kinley (played by Jake Gyllenhaal of “Nightcrawler”) and his Afghan interpreter, Ahmed (Dar Salim of “The Devil's Double”) are caught in a Taliban ambush some 60 miles from the nearest U.S. base during the war. Kinley is badly wounded. Ahmed cares for him, keeps him alive and heroically hauls him back to the base through enemy territory. Kinley owes Ahmed his life.
Back in the U.S. Kinley is haunted by his life debt to Ahmed. Knowing that the Taliban are hunting for Ahmed, along with Ahmed's wife and child, Kinley tries to go through channels to get U.S. visas for Ahmed and his family, so they can escape from Afghanistan. Such visas were promised to many Afghan interpreters, and others who worked with the U.S. military during the war.
Kinley runs into a brick wall trying to get the visas, so he pulls in all the military favors he can, and mortgages his home to pay for the services of a mercenary, Eddie Parker (Antony Starr of “Banshee”) and his team, to help get Ahmed and his family out of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the only thing keeping Ahmed alive is his brother, an influential opium dealer, who has connections to hide Ahmed, but time is running out.
The movie opens with some scenes which illustrate how the relationship between Kinley and Ahmed developed over time, and how they eventually come to trust each other in a war where a lot of people have mixed allegiances. The battle between the isolated American forces and the Taliban is well-staged, as is Ahmed's difficult journey through mountain passes back to the U.S. base.
Kinley's dangerous journey back to Afghanistan to find Ahmed and his family is followed by a fierce, climactic gunfight with the Taliban, who are hot on their trail. The action scenes are well-staged, and there is plenty of suspense in the rescue scenes, too. Gyllenhaal, one of the best actors of his generation, shines in this role. He plays a man more haunted than idealistic. Dar Salim also gives a powerful performance in this film.
Some have called this movie the best of Guy Ritchie's storied career. I don't know if I agree with that, but it is certainly up there among his best, and most serious, movies. This movie rates a B.
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