[Screen It]


(2023) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim) (R)

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Action: A U.S. soldier and his Afghan translator do what they can to survive and protect each other while being the targets of terrorists who want them dead.

It's 2018 and American forces have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade following the terrorist attacks on American soil back in 2001. Among them is Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose team is tasked with finding hidden caches of Taliban weaponry. To aid in their search, they've been using locals to serve as translators, and the latest to join John's unit is Ahmed (Dar Salim).

He seems to have something of a sixth sense when it comes to dealing with other locals, and earns his unit's trust when he saves them from what turns out was going to be an ambush. But when he and John end up alone following a firefight where their team is outnumbered, the two must do what they can to survive and protect each other, including long after that incident has passed.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

Let's face it. The U.S. government is all-in when it comes to gobbling up huge chunks of the annual federal budget, policing the world, and putting members of the various branches of the Armed Forces in harm's way. When it comes to the latter after their time is done, however, they're decidedly less so.

Just look at the debacle of the Veterans Administration over the years (and how many veterans commit suicide each year -- a staggering number, meaning they're not getting the PTSD help they need), and how comedian turned activist Jon Stewart has been leading the charge regarding getting help for those exposed to toxic burn pits located near U.S. military bases overseas.

The same holds true for non-Americans who've assisted the military over the years. For instance, untold numbers of Afghans served as translators and in other roles to help U.S. forces that occupied their country for more than a decade following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on American soil.

They put their -- and often their family members' -- lives at stake to do so for any number of reasons (many simply for disliking the Taliban) with the promise that they'd be granted visas to get out of the country and not worry about being killed for being "traitors."

Yet, according to the 2022 article by the L.A. Times, tens of thousands are still waiting in the visa pipeline and thus exist in a perilous and not particularly encouraging situation. That's addressed in the latest film from director Guy Ritchie, the oddly self-promoting titled "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant."

Now, if you're familiar with the filmmaker's body of work, he might sound like an odd fit for the subject matter, what with having helmed a great number of movies where the action is hyper-stylized (such as in the "Sherlock Holmes" flicks featuring Robert Downey, Jr.).

For those concerned about the potential for a less than fully respectful look at such people as well as the U.S. military personnel they assisted, I'm happy to report that Ritchie has avoided such use here, and has instead delivered a taut action-thriller that's engaging from start to finish, features great performances from its two leads, and shines additional light on the sacrifices that many make to keep the world a safer place.

Working from a script he co-wrote with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, Ritchie drops us into the action right away as Sgt. John Kinley (the always Jake Gyllenhaal) watches as some from his team (that search for Taliban weapons in Afghanistan) get blown up at a checkpoint by a truck bomb. Needing a new Afghan translator, he's told that Ahmed (Dar Salim) is the best man for the job, and John quickly comes to agree with that assessment as the man has both knowledge of the locals as well as a sixth sense about when things don't seem quite right.

The two end up bonding during and after an intense sequence where they and others on their team discover a cache of weapons at an abandoned mining operation and then come under attack by the Taliban. As the lone survivors they then must avoid being found and captured or killed while more than one hundred "clicks" from their base. And after Ahmed saves John's life during a tumultuous and perilous ordeal, the latter ends up obsessed with returning the favor.

Both Gyllenhaal and Salim are terrific in their roles, bringing plenty of gravitas and emotional connection to their characters, while Ritchie and his crew expertly deliver the action and then some.

I'll admit I wasn't expecting a great deal from the film, but I found it pretty great all-around as it simultaneously honors those who've made such sacrifices and chastises the overall system for not upholding its end of the deal. So far, it's one of the best films of the year, and thus "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Posted April 21, 2023

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