Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant Review

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is a solid war flick with two excellent leading performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim.

PLOT: During the war in Afghanistan, a U.S. Army Sergeant (Jake Gyllenhaal) is saved from capture by the Taliban by his interpreter (Dar Salim). After returning home, he discovers that the man he owes his life to has vanished and has a price on his head, leading to him embarking on a desperate mission to repay his debt.

REVIEW: Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is a welcome change of pace for the director. While Ritchie is well-known for embracing a cheeky sense of humour in many of his action movies (most recently in Operation Fortune: Ruse du Guerre), this one is more along the lines of his earlier Wrath of Man, eschewing any sense of levity to tell a profoundly affecting war story. While the premise may make it sound like a buddy movie, Ritchie takes the story in unexpected directions, broken down into a solid three-act structure that gives both leads, Gyllenhaal and Salim, time to anchor their own part of the story. Thus, it’s more of a classic two-hander, with the two having a relationship that’s born out of necessity rather than warmth, which doesn’t belong in a film like this.

Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific in a more-action driven part than usual, playing a U.S. sergeant named Kinley. He’s a veteran soldier who leads a tight crew, and a violent Taliban attack has left his interpreter dead, forcing him to take on a new man, Dar Salim’s Ahmed, who no one really trusts. Ahmed, with his cynical attitude and a shady history involving the heroin trade, initially seems like a tough character, but what Ritchie does so well in The Covenant is that he fleshes out Ahmed’s story just as much as he does Kinley’s. Yes, we know that Kinley has a family back home waiting for him, but so does Ahmed. He’s joined the Army to seek vengeance on the Taliban, who killed his son, and we see that Salim’s Ahmed is a badass in his own right. When he and Kinley are ambushed, he has the resourcefulness and skills to rescue his badly wounded sergeant, which is a daring movie by Ritchie as Gyllenhaal is sidelined for much of the second act.

This pays off as, thanks to the increased focus on Ahmed, we really invest in his survival, making Kinley’s return to rescue him all the more affecting when it happens. Again, neither Gyllenhaal nor Salim plays their roles in a melodramatic way. They two aren’t buddies, but they respect each other. You recognize that Gyllenhaal has a debt to fulfil, and the film’s final act is a nail-biter, with the two going up against impossible odds to survive. Gyllenhaal and Salim play well off each other, with the latter a real find. A veteran of many Danish films, including the excellent A Hijacking, he’s a leading man in his own right and commands the screen when he takes over in the middle chunk of the film. By contrast, Gyllenhaal delivers a much subtler performance than usual. Kinley is a tough professional with a solid moral code, and Gyllenhaal delivers a more sympathetic, or rather heroic, performance in The Covenant than we’ve seen since probably Stronger.

The supporting cast is solid too, with Jonny Lee Miller convincingly cast against type as U.S Army brass (he’s been underappreciated for years). At the same time, The Boys star Antony Starr shows up late in the game in a scene-stealing turn as a sympathetic mercenary hired to help with the extraction. In a lesser movie, he would have been a red herring, but that would have been a cliche, and Ritchie is disciplined here in how he tries to keep it as gritty and realistic as possible while still delivering a solid action flick.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is from Amazon Studios, meaning it will eventually show up on Prime Video. But, like many of their films, it’s getting a theatrical bow via MGM. It cries out to be seen on the big screen, and like their previous Air and Creed III, it’s solid adult entertainment that needs ought to be supported by audiences. I really enjoyed it.


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