Louisa Moore - Screen Zealots
Director Guy Ritchie is no stranger to crafting exciting action films, but his latest project is quite different than his previous work. The narrative is linear, there aren’t any montages, and the story isn’t about criminals, gangsters, or Brits. Fans of Ritchie will absolutely still recognize his visual style (hello, overhead shots) and testosterone-fueled themes, but “The Covenant” is a more dramatic, mature, and restrained work from the legendary director. Set during the war in Afghanistan in 2018, the film tells the story of U.S. Army sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his local Afghan interpreter, Ahmed (Dar Salim). Called a traitor by his people for helping the Americans, Ahmed has volunteered to seek revenge against the Taliban that killed his son. He has also been promised visas for his service so his family can flee to safety in America. After a lethal ambush in the desert, Kinley is gravely injured by enemy fire. With his platoon gone, Ahmed refuses to leave a fellow soldier behind to die, so he drags Kinley through the mountainous terrain in order to get him back to the base for medical help. The film tells the story of their 100 mile journey, but then pivots to Kinley’s return to the United States. It’s months after he gets home that Kinley learns Ahmed and his family were not given safe passage as promised and, as a way to repay the debt he owes his friend, he returns to Afghanistan to retrieve them. It won’t be easy, because Ahmed has been placed at the top of the Taliban’s most wanted hit list. It’s a meaningful story of honor and brotherhood wrapped up in an intense wartime thriller. The story is told in three major acts, from the early days Ahmed and Kinley spent chasing IEDs, to their dangerous journey, to the red tape of getting a man what he’s owed. There are plenty of thrilling acting sequences throughout, and they will keep you on the edge of your seat. Ritchie has an extraordinary sense of timing and instincts for shooting action scenes, and the brutal, graphic wartime violence puts you in the be-or-be-killed survival mind of a front line solider. The director’s visual storytelling is terrific here, as he switches between handheld shots with uneven movements to dizzying aerial shots to sweeping tracking shots seamlessly within one action scene. It creates a greater sense of immediacy and danger, expressing the gravity of the situation at hand. Some of the scenes are so distressing that I found my heart pounding throughout, and Ritchie’s use of harsh close-ups adds to the intensity. There’s a lot of cat-and-mouse content that adds to the tension, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky because this is a film that is unafraid to kill off characters at any time (so don’t get too attached to anyone). Gyllenhaal and Salim make a dynamic onscreen duo, and both men have a natural chemistry that is the highlight of the film. Salim’s performance is dynamic and genuine, and Gyllenhaal proves yet again that he’s a formidable leading man. He’s in his natural habitat here, playing a rugged everyman with a non-threatening masculinity that gives him a broad, universal appeal. The performances from the supporting cast are also top-notch. The story is one of integrity, loyalty, and respect, and these men have an incredible amount of honor. Ahmed and Kinley are forced to make tough decisions, but they never shy away from doing the right thing, even when it’s the harder option. These guys are still combat killers and trained soldiers, but their friendship takes center stage. This is such a great story of brotherhood that you’ll wish it was true (sorry folks, this is a work of fiction). The film only makes a couple of missteps, and there are two major things that bothered me. First, the alpha male dialogue among the soldiers is openly homophobic. It’s laughed off and never challenged. I found this to be a bit problematic, but the way these guys talk is also likely accurate and authentic. Second, the grand finale shootout feels a bit like military propaganda, where the brawny American saviors must step in and become the heroes. It’s a sequence that’s thrilling, but feels stuffed in as a way to appease the hyper-patriotic “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” crowd. But here’s where it gets interesting: the film is also highly critical of the U.S. government and the heads of the military. The soldiers may have honor, but those at a higher level do not. The film offers a scathing criticism that applies to the many ways the U.S. abandons its veterans too, from dismissing allegations of sexual assault, making it difficult to obtain proper healthcare, crafting vague promises, and flat-out lying. It’s a profound theme that may be lost on the majority of audiences (but I hope not). “The Covenant” is an extremely well made wartime action film, and those looking for a thrill will find it. Go and enjoy the entertainment value, but don’t lose sight of the small, emotional story that’s at the heart of it all. **By: Louisa Moore / SCREEN ZEALOTS / www.ScreenZealots.com**
After Guy Ritchie’s last film, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, was an absolute disaster, I seriously considered skipping his most recent outing, The Covenant. However, I'm very happy I didn't because it's become one of my favorite films of the year so far. The direction is excellent, with amazing up-close shots and zooms that really add to the intense nature of the film. The first hour flew by with fantastic build-up and character development. The action was superb and brutally realistic, showcasing the true horrors of the War in Afghanistan in a respectable way. However, after this first act, the movie does slow down a bit, with a pretty substantial lull that lasted about 20 minutes in the middle of the film. It was not terrible, but something I definitely noticed. Performances were excellent, particularly from Dar Salim, who was a standout in the film. His grueling journey across the Afghanistan terrain was one of the most stressful and inspiring segments in any film so far this year and had me at the edge of my seat. Overall, The Covenant is a pretty straightforward war story, told with excellent direction, performances, and visuals. It handles the source material with incredible care, showcasing the environment of Afghanistan in a way I have never seen before. Score: 85% ✅ Verdict: Great
A staggering tale of an unhinged perseverance which is backed by a captivating screenplay. Air is a story so frivolous and flat , that the courage of Ben Affleck should be lauded with our hats down. A simple plot which would fit within 3 lines of a page is magically presented to us as a fascinating and appealing peace of history which changed the strature of business in sports in America and revolutionized a global culture, Nike's collaboration with the greatest basketball player in the history of the game, "Michael Jordan". The 2 hours doesn't feel long when you have a dazzling screenplay & a marvelous ensemble cast with their pragmatic conversations. Ben Affleck really puts in a fine effort to yield such sensational performances for the star studded cast. Brilliant is an understatement for the ensemble cast. I have never seen a better grounded performance of Matt Damon than this. He is sensational. Jason Bateman and Viola Davis add the much needed spark with their magnetic performances. Good to see Chris Tucker back and boy he just gets his sense of humor right each time. The banters between Matt and Chris Messina is the highlight for me. Ben Affleck is a master in terms of direction, the way he manages veterans into building such a collaboration is astounding. Overall, If you believe in uplifting stories behind sports and redefining moments of history which changed the world we live in today then Air is a great addition to your watchlist. Instagram @streamgenx
Seems to be a growing trend nowadays to lead with the credentials of the director in order to get eyeballs onto a movie. That's what seems to have happened here, but once you're watching it turns out to be little better than a derivative vehicle for an unremarkable Jake Gyllenhaal who gets to tug at the heart strings on behalf of those vital interpreters (50,000 of them, apparently) who were abandoned to the Taliban when the allied forces quit Afghanistan. In this rather procedural effort, his guide "Ahmed" (Dar Salim) goes above and beyond to rescue his handler "Kinley" from ambush only to find that the American is flown home to safety, recuperation and a big steak on the barbecue. The latter man is left to reap the benefits of his sterling efforts by having a price on his head and so is forced to live in hiding. "Kinley" learns of this and decides that the man must be got out. After endless red tape seems determined to ensure that the promise made at the time to these folks to offer them fast-track American visas after the conflict was not going to be honoured any time soon, "KInley" decides he's going to have to take matters into his own hands. Remarkably, from his American home he manages to track down the elusive "Ahmed" and with the aid of a commercial extraction agency, funds a trip to get in and get his friend out. Aside from some serious plot plausibility issues, as action films go it's fine. The cinematography and pace work well to give us a sense of the danger and the relentlessness (and stealth) of the warfare that frequently nullifies the superior firepower of the visitors when faced with hostile terrain and efficient guerrilla warriors. Gyllenhaal does nothing for me here, though. He's just going through the motions, especially when required to actually act. He has become a rather one-dimensional performer (maybe it's the beard?) and though there is merit in Salim's performance as his character is allowed to mature a little by Guy Ritchie, I just felt that I'd seen the film before and the underpinning moralisation was largely undermined by the predictability of the storyline. It's certainly watchable, but it isn't hard to see why it never got a cinema release.
This strikes me as a "feel good movie" pitched at US audiences. It ultimately makes all the right sounds about military honour and commitment, even when confronted by stubborn bureaucracy and indifference. That said, its only at the end, when you read the "fine print", (300+ interpreters and their families dead) you get to see the scope of the US's lack of commitment to those who collaborated with it, in Afghanistan. I guess the obvious elephant in the living room, is should the US have invaded in the first place? Looking at the facts, the answer is, of course, "no". So much of the misery and loss we see on the ground in this film, probably could have been avoided, had the US stuck to its own borders. The film itself is well made, well acted and directed. Its story does resonate in a humanistic context. The action is well developed too if not entirely convincing. I did a wry smile at how the so called "bad guys", as per usual, seem to be appalling shots. Even when well armed and in large numbers, at close range. Inn summary, well acted, directed, a heartfelt story and lots of mostly engaging action. That said, the historical reality is, the US were invaders in Afghanistan. So perhaps the underlying take away from this, is the need for an end to wasteful wars, that should not be fought.
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