A key member of The Covenant (CREDIT: Christopher Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures
© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Alexander Ludwig, Anthony Starr, Emily Beecham, Jonny Lee Miller

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for Modern Warfare and Drunken Vitriol

Release Date: April 21, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant at first looks like a pretty typical 21st century war film, with lots of sweating and tumbling through mountainous desert terrain. It’s April 2018, and Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself squarely in the crosshairs of a resurgent Taliban, with nobody to protect him except his Afghani interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim). Then about halfway through, the film pivots to the tangled odyssey of John repaying the favor by attempting to secure American visas for Ahmed and his family. It’s a high-stakes rescue mission with no promises of safety or success, as the only way to track down an Afghan citizen on the run from the Taliban is by jumping right back into the cauldron.

What Made an Impression?: The Covenant kicked off by having the gall to give me terrible flashbacks to Guy Ritchie’s last release, Operation Fortune: Rose de Guerre, as I struggled to keep track of everybody’s names and motivations. I thought I was paying attention well enough, but combat is obviously high-pressure, and soldiers can frequently find themselves in situations where it’s too dangerous to say their names to each other, let alone anything at all. But then that midpoint reinvention came along, and it was absolutely critical, and profoundly welcome. Suddenly it became clear that this wouldn’t be just a straightforward depiction of modern warfare, but an opportunity to call attention to an urgently timely issue. Furthermore, Sgt. Kinley would now have plenty of chances to say his own name and Ahmed’s over and over again.

Where The Covenant delivers its central point most saliently is a montage of John driving himself into a Kafkaesque rage over the futility of America’s visa process. It maybe fast-tracks a bit too much the development of him being driven to ruin by booze, but it works to convey just how destructively frustrating this bureaucracy is. The extraction scenes are pulse-pounding and cleanly edited, but the effect is stronger when the focus is on the conversations and negotiations. Thousands of real-life Afghans who worked alongside Americans are desperately waiting for their fortunes to turn as Ahmed’s did. If The Covenant can manage to throw a light on their plight, even just a little bit, then it will have been worth it.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is Recommended If You Like: Going beyond the headlines of the nightly news

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Visas