When you think of Guy Ritchie, you think (most likely) of style and a modern sense of filmmaking. You wouldn’t expect a film, let alone one with his name in the title, to be a meat and potatoes war drama. Then again, you also wouldn’t necessarily expect for it to wind up being his most effective and successful movie in years. Here we are though, with Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant being his best work in some time. Ritchie opts to tell a simple story and tell it well, thrilling and visceral, but without any unneeded bells and whistles.
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is a pulse-pounding war picture with stakes and an old-fashioned sense of duty. There’s a western vibe at play in the need to hold up one’s end of the bargain. Set during a modern conflict only makes those themes play out in an even starker manner. It all adds up to a flick that seems to have Ritchie more engaged than he’s been in a long while.
US Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in need of a new Afghan interpreter for his squad after a terrorist attack claimed the life of the last one. Enter Ahmed (Dar Salim), an interpreter known to be somewhat difficult to work with, but possessing more skills than normal. After a brief interview, John has Ahmed on the team, quickly proving his worth as they look for weapons on the streets of Afghanistan. When a tip leads them to an ambush, it’s Ahmed, not one of John’s fellow soldiers, who saves the day. Not only does he do that, he literally saves John’s life, to the point where his heroism has caused him and his family to go into hiding from the Taliban. John gets to go home and recover, but the promise for the interpreter that he’ll be able to get a visa and come to the United States is not going smoothly, putting his life in imminent danger.
Determined not to let Ahmed down, John begins doing everything he can to get his savior out of Afghanistan. Despite his wife (Emily Meecham) being thrilled he’s home, John knows what eventually must happen. He’s going to need to leave her, his children, and his home, head back to the country that almost took his life, and bring Ahmed home himself. If his government won’t hold up their end of the bargain, he’ll do it for them, no matter the cost.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim are very good as the emotional cruxes of the flick. Gyllenhaal is the moral sheriff of this world, intense and compelling to watch, He truly could have aced a western role back in the day. As for Salim, he has a sly wit and sarcasm to him that makes the part far denser than it otherwise could have been. They’re both well suited for action scenes, but they don’t skimp on the emotionality on display, either. In addition to Emily Meecham, the supporting players include Alexander Ludwig, Jonny Lee Miller, Fariba Sheikhan, Antony Starr, Rhys Yates, and more. You’re just solely focused in on Gyllenhaal and Salim.
On the surface, Guy Ritchie may not seem like the most obvious candidate to be co-writing and directing this picture. Perhaps that’s what makes it work, as not only is his script with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies quite solid, his direction is possible the best I’ve seen from him. All of the extra style that calls attention to itself without furthering the plot is gone, while all of his directorial skill is still in evident. The movie runs a little long and doesn’t really go any places you don’t expect, but it’s just well done.
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant has no interest in reinventing the action or war movie wheel, but it has an old fashioned approach that suits it. The assignment from Ritchie and company is simple, but everyone is invested in pulling it off with aplomb. They do so, to be sure, and we have an adult war drama hitting theaters that’s well worth seeing.