Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant Review

Director Guy Ritchie delivers another captivating film this year with The Covenant – an intense war film that keeps the stakes and emotions running high throughout and lets the humanity of its central relationship carry the film to its gripping conclusions.

Even for The Covenant not being based on a true story, Ritchie ties the film’s story and characters directly to the history of its time setting – the War in Afghanistan. Through some opening text and a tragic opening sequence, the tone and atmosphere are set perfectly for what follows. Admittedly, Ritchie definitely could’ve gone a little deeper into some of the racial tensions at play during this time as well as some of the outside perspectives surrounding the War when the film goes back to the States just to paint a fuller picture. But what he provides is more than enough to invest and immerse audiences into the film’s experience as well as the dynamic of its central two characters.

The film’s story follows John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) – a U.S. Army sergeant tasked with leading a team of soldiers to find IED factories who receives a new interpreter named Ahmed (Dar Salim). At first, John openly shows some hesitation in trusting Ahmed because of how he doesn’t always follow orders and a personal bias stemming from a recent car bombing incident that caused his team to lose a young soldier and their interpreter. Eventually though, John and Ahmed begin to trust one another as they become top targets of the Taliban and are forced to fight for their survival so that they can escape together.

Both John and Ahmed are characterized incredibly well from the start and the film really makes you care and understand their personal motivations and issues. It’s easy to see that John still harbors some resentment over the recent losses within his team and that it fuels his distrust of Ahmed. It’s sort of this subtle but prevalent example of how tensions fuel racial profiling and perceptions during the war and is where John’s frustrations with Ahmed come from. There are some incredibly tense moments between them all throughout the early parts of the film and times where it nearly leads to something fatal. Ahmed acting on his own accord at times also causes some tense conflict between him and John, but ultimately shapes his perspective that’s excellently fleshed out as the film goes on.

It’s honestly really great how Ahmed’s role as an interpreter is defined as it adds so much more complexity and importance to his role on the team – something that John comes to realize himself. A big part of what makes John and Ahmed finding commonality and respect for one another so compelling is how grounded Ritchie keep things. Their bond genuinely feels real and the respect they share for each other is elevated by how they come to need each other to survive. At times, we don’t even get many words between them, yet their bond has this palpable feel that’s easy to grasp and understand. Gyllenhaal and Salim deliver stellar performances that really highlight their respective characters’ perspective and the feelings they have after they’re put in tough situations.

The Covenant might be one of Ritchie’s most thrilling films yet with how he holds nothing back in displaying the brutality and genuine hardships John and Ahmed face in trying to stay alive. Once these two are forced to be on their own after suffering devastating losses in a mission that goes wrong, the film’s tension and stakes raise greatly. Death feels like its really looming around every corner for John and Ahmed and the moments of them narrowly avoiding the Taliban’s grasp will leave viewers breathless at times. The last act of the film is especially where viewers will find themselves clutching at their seats because the stakes and emotion are higher than ever. The action is not only epic because of how Ritchie captures it but also hits right at the heart because of how invested viewers will be in John and Ahmed’s fates. The entire last stretch is full of vicious gunfighting and close calls that’ll completely leave viewers on edge and it’s largely because of the time the film takes in making John and Ahmed’s relationship matter off the battlefield.

There’s a big turning point in the film that really tests the bond that John and Ahmed have made, and it highlights one of The Covenant’s biggest strengths – a strong focus on the human element and impact of their story. It shows that the bond that John and Ahmed have made stretches past just what they do as soldiers together and defines the meaning of the film’s title as well as the brotherhood that soldiers share excellently. The true humanity of their dynamic and situation in the second half of the film is where audiences will deeply connect with these two and it’s what makes the entire last act thrilling, emotional, and meaningful. There will be times where viewers will be on the verge of tears because of how high the emotion is and John’s personal process after being sent home as well as the redemptive arc he goes on throughout the last act is deeply fulfilling to watch. It’s a pivotal reason that viewers will become so invested up until the very end.

Plus, Ritchie even ties their story to reality with some poignant and relevant closing text that justifiably delves into the underdiscussed reality of the recent US actions of pulling out of Afghanistan. It’s one of the many effective ways that Ritchie utilizes text in The Covenant and a key way that he not only immerses viewers into the moment, but also leaves them thinking as they leave the theater.

The Covenant has a raw power to it that makes it an emotional and thrilling epic at every turn that focuses on a unique angle of human impact during war. It’s captivating from start to finish and will leave viewers stunned by the emotional impact it has on them as well as the intense thrills that rarely let off the gas. Gyllenhaal and Salim deliver great performances while Ritchie continues to show different sides of his directing making him one of the most versatile directors in film.


Watch the Trailer Here:

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