Wall Street Times

The Covenant: A review of Guy Ritchie’s movie

The Covenant by Guy Ritchie is a frightening action film with plenty of gunshots and explosions that make you feel like you’re in danger. It also has a thin plot about brave decisions, like so many war movies. John Kinley, a US Army sergeant in Afghanistan in 2018, is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal. His Afghan interpreter, Ahmed (Dar Salim), saves his life. After Kinley returns home and learns that the Taliban are after Ahmed and his family for aiding the Americans, he decides to go back to Afghanistan to try to save him in a single-handed feat that is usually reserved for movies. Just another business venture thus far.

The movie’s little but present real-world resonance, however, refers to a growing trend in filmmaking for works that focus on the 20-year-long US war in Afghanistan, which ended in 2021 with the withdrawal of their forces. Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Deer Hunter (1978) are excellent films that emerged shortly after the US withdrew from Vietnam. While filmmakers are now setting their stories in Afghanistan, The Covenant and other hesitant responses imply that it might take much longer to depict that conflict on screen adequately. The US is too politically divided for movies to risk offending half the audience, and Hollywood is more cautious than ever.

Although the war in Afghanistan is now the longest in US history, the public rarely thinks about it first. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US military invaded Afghanistan to stop potential strikes by terrorists headquartered there. However, the war was swiftly eclipsed by other international crises, first in Iraq and, most recently, in Ukraine. But now is a perfect time for the Covenant. Before the US army pullout and the tumultuous evacuation as tens of thousands of Afghans jammed Kabul Airport in an attempt to flee, the Biden administration published a report two weeks ago. Within weeks of US and UK soldiers leaving, the Taliban seized power, limiting human rights, particularly for women, and sparking a global refugee crisis due to Afghans.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant fits into that context. Still, it is not the first or only Hollywood portrayal of the conflict, specifically the relationship between US soldiers and their Afghan guides. That is the film’s full, awkward title, which at least sets it apart from several other movies called The Covenant. In reality, a new one will open the next month: In the action film Kandahar, starring Gerard Butler, a CIA agent and his interpreter are trapped in a hazardous area of Afghanistan. It was released in the US on May 26.

There have also been earlier ineffective attempts. A light buddy comedy on the CBS network, The United States of Al (2021–2022), centers on an Afghan guide who lives in the US with the Marine he helped and Marine’s family. The 2016 comedy-infused drama Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, in which Tina Fey plays a journalist in Kabul, was so culturally insensitive to appoint Christopher Abbott, an American, as her interpreter from the Afghan language. Despite its overblown premise and one-dimensional characters, the Covenant captures more reality than that.

The truth behind the Covenant

Although The Covenant has an explosive surface, it is also grounded in verifiable truths and beliefs. For example, in the text near the film’s conclusion, it is said that 300 Afghans have died, and thousands more are hiding from the Taliban due to their cooperation with the US. The sentence “rings true,” according to Annie Pforzheimer, a former US diplomat who served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kabul in 2017–18.

Additionally, Pforzheimer has witnessed a strong bond between Kinley and Ahmed that echoes their relationship. She adds that movies like The Covenant “reflect the real feeling of [their] helplessness and a little bit of wish fulfillment” for the soldiers and diplomats who worked closely with Afghan translators, police, military, and politicians for 20 years.

With its focus on how the US Visas promised to Ahmed and his family are entangled in so much bureaucracy that the Taliban would probably find him before he could leave the country, The Covenant also has an unexpected critical edge. Putting politics and flowery language aside, his annoyance reflects the reality that veterans’ organizations and other non-profits are raising awareness of a backlog of Special Immigration Visas to the US, the kind that Afghan guides were promised.

Documentaries may afford to be more scathing in their critique of the US strategy in Afghanistan because they have smaller budgets and fewer commercial expectations. Just before the US withdrawal, a camera team was embedded with US Special Forces, sometimes called Green Berets. It captures the relationship between US soldiers and their Afghan counterparts in Matthew Heineman’s Retrograde, a finalist for the best documentary Oscar.

Keeping politics out

However, most movies about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are adamantly apolitical, praising the soldiers’ bravery to avoid more serious issues regarding the divisive wars themselves. For example, in Jarhead (2005), another Gyllenhaal picture set in the early 1990s during the Gulf War, a Marine casually deflects any questions concerning that battle by pleading with his buddies to disregard “politics, all right? We’re here, and “all the rest” doesn’t matter, he continued.

Similar things happen in the movie The Outpost (2020), which is about a significant battle in Afghanistan. A soldier remarks, “Freedom ain’t free,” the only obliquely political statement made in the movie, which focuses on the soldiers’ courage and the atrocities of the violence.

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Even the top Hollywood combat films adopt a Western worldview. Afghanistan-themed movies do exist, but they are frequently disregarded. Hava, Maryam, Ayesha is a 2019 feature film by Sahraa Karimi that had its Venice Film Festival premiere. It is a carefully observed, humorous, sobering tale about three pregnant Afghan women from various social backgrounds. Karimi, one of the most well-known filmmakers now working in Afghanistan, hastily left Kabul in 2021 when the Taliban gained power and resides in New York. She considers herself to be an exile. She intends to produce Flight from Kabul, a movie based on her escape.

Reference: ‘The Covenant’ Review