“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant”
Rotten Tomatoes (3/5), Metacritic (6/10), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10)
As the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan relentlessly raged on, the US military hired scores of locals to serve as interpreters in the conflict against the Taliban, a risky proposition for these Afghan nationals, given that they were seen by their countrymen as traitors. In exchange for their services, however, they were promised a hefty reward – visas to emigrate to America for themselves and their families. Nevertheless, this promise often came with undisclosed strings, particularly lengthy delays for issuing the documents, leaving the interpreters in the lurch as they anxiously awaited their flight to freedom. Their story is the subject of “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” an amalgamation of the interpreters’ wartime experiences told through the tale of a heroic translator, Ahmed (Dar Salim), who rescues his commanding officer, Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal), under perilous conditions but who is subsequently forced into hiding after his story receives widespread attention and makes him a highly valued Taliban target. When Sgt. Kinley is safely at home and hears what happened to his colleague, he vows to return to Afghanistan to secure refuge for the man who saved his life. Movies about extricating those trapped behind enemy lines are common in the annals of filmdom, and this offering is very much cut from the same cloth (save for the venue), so there’s not much that really differentiates it from comparable offerings. However, the film’s superbly executed second half – a far cry better than its overlong, sometimes-tedious first hour – helps to make up for this. The back end also features far better writing than what’s found in the trite, corny war movie dialogue of the opening act. And it helps that the picture has a superb score and is beautifully shot. It’s just unfortunate that the two halves of this release aren’t on par with one another, as that would have made for a much better film, even with a narrative as fundamentally formulaic as this one. I must admit that I’m always somewhat skeptical about movies that have an individual’s name at the beginning of the title (makes me think the studio/distributor is trying too hard to sell it, based on the individual’s reputation than the quality of the work at hand), and I suppose I should have maintained more of that skepticism where this film is concerned. While “The Covenant” is far from a bad picture, it certainly could have been better (or at least better balanced), and then it wouldn’t have had to rely on the director’s name at the top of the marquee to coax viewers into the theater.