Wed | Nov 29, 2023

‘Guy Ritchie’s Covenant’ exhilarating and heartbreaking

Published:Monday | May 1, 2023 | 12:16 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
 Dar Salim as Ahmed, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt John Kinley in a scene from ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’.
Dar Salim as Ahmed, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt John Kinley in a scene from ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’.

If there is anything to be learnt from the countless war films that exist it’s that war is the closest thing we have to hell itself. Even the films that celebrate war can’t seem to get around the fact that putting your life on the line in the name of your country has some unforeseeable sacrifices. It seems all is not quite so fair in love and war, as the men and women who heed the call are sorely mistreated when all is said and done.

At least that’s the message in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, a film that follows a squadron of soldiers and their trusty interpreter in the desert of Afghanistan. Dar Salim’s Ahmed doesn’t just translate, but with his lay of the land he leads his American compatriots in exchange for a chance to emigrate to the US for himself and his family. So with Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Kinley badly injured miles away from safety, Ahmed has a chance to earn his rewards tenfold.

In an amazing display of resilience Ahmed not only saves the life of his country’s invader, but carries him across treacherous hills and valleys with death at every corner. The sequence of the rescue is exceedingly tense, with each moment that passes weighted down by sheer hopelessness.

As if that weren’t enough, Covenant takes things even further. Despite his feats of strength, Ahmed is left without a paddle up ambivalence creek by the US military. Like many interpreters in Afghanistan, Ahmed went above and beyond the call of duty, getting rewarded with nothing more than a target on his back. Ahmed’s survival is nerve-wracking, and seemingly impossible to overcome.

At no point does the film seem to be a pro-military story. The US is depicted as frustratingly indifferent to Ahmed’s plight, and watching Jake Gyllenhaal overcoming the red tape to get him safe and sound is equivalent only to Ahmed climbing a literal mountain.

Despite the film’s cynicism, it’s without a doubt a breathtaking sight to behold. Ahmed’s trek to sanctuary has incredible visuals of the landscape. Aside from aesthetic appeal, The Covenant deploys some clever filmmaking, as Guy Ritchie puts his mastery of perspective to good use. In one sequence, Ritchie replays Ahmed’s journey, but from the eyes of his immobile patron, bringing to the forefront just how much was done to get them home. It’s a moving scene that’s instrumental to bringing the characters back together.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is a film that loves warriors, but despises war. It harshly criticises the system that uses people like cannon fodder and leaves the survivors to fend for themselves. At the same time, it celebrates the spirit of those people who are used, and delivers an exhilarating story of individual triumph in the face of insurmountable odds and apathetic systems.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.