For the first half of “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” the film presents itself as a thoughtful exploration of American-South Asian relations. The story follows Sergeant John Kinley, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and his Afghan translator, Ahmed, played by Dar Salim, as they navigate their way through Afghanistan. Ahmed’s job, which puts him at risk of retaliation from the Taliban, involves helping Kinley and his team, and in exchange, he is promised visas to the United States for himself, his wife, and his child.
During this half of the film, “The Covenant” operates as a character-driven drama that examines the many broken promises made by the US to the Middle East. This approach is effective, as it highlights the complex and often contradictory nature of America’s relationship with the region.
However, the film takes a drastic turn in the second half, as Ritchie introduces more combat and action into the story. While these scenes are exciting and well-executed, they feel out of place when compared to the more introspective tone of the first half of the film. This shift in tone ultimately detracts from the film’s overall impact, as it moves away from its initial exploration of the hollowness of American exceptionalism.
Overall, while “The Covenant” has its merits as a character-driven drama, its uneven execution and abrupt shift in tone ultimately leave the viewer feeling underwhelmed.
In the opening scenes of “The Covenant,” the audience is immediately thrown into the dangerous world of Kinley and his team. The death of their translator and two other soldiers sets the stage for the arrival of Ahmed, who initially seems disinterested in the job. However, it soon becomes clear that Ahmed is more invested in bringing down the Taliban than he lets on.
What makes Ahmed such an intriguing character is his stoicism and intelligence. He is aware of the local drug trade and can tell when someone is lying, demonstrating his ability to navigate the complicated political landscape of Afghanistan. Despite his broad frame and intimidating presence, he is often ignored or dismissed by the soldiers he is there to help.
Sadim’s performance as Ahmed is a standout in the film, conveying both his physicality and intelligence. His interactions with Kinley are particularly compelling, as he corrects the soldier’s mistakes and negotiates with informants. Through Ahmed, “The Covenant” offers a nuanced portrayal of the Afghan people and their struggles in the midst of the war.
In “The Covenant,” the viewer is immediately thrown into the dangerous world of war and conflict. The opening scene shows Kinley and his team conducting roadside checks, which quickly turn deadly when a bomb is detonated, killing several soldiers. Ahmed, who later joins the team, appears stoic and uninterested in the job at first, but it becomes clear that he has a deeper connection to the mission than he initially lets on.
As the film progresses, the relationship between Kinley and Ahmed becomes strained, with Kinley seeming to distance himself from Ahmed outside of their work together. The film’s second half takes a more melodramatic turn, with Kinley’s attempts to help Ahmed and his family highlighting the apathy of the bureaucratic system towards Afghan translators.
Despite strong performances from Gyllenhaal and Sadim, the film’s tonal missteps and overblown action sequences prevent it from being the thoughtful examination of the war in Afghanistan that it could have been. Ultimately, “The Covenant” falls short of its potential, leaving the viewer with mixed emotions and unanswered questions.