By Ben Konuch
“That is not how this debt works. It demands a result, not an appeasement.”
What would you do if your life was saved by someone in an unbelievable display of courage and endurance, if the only reason for your life was another man’s determination and fortitude, and then you found out that his very life was in danger because of the way he saved your own? How far would you go, how much would you risk, in order to repay that debt? This is the question that Guy Ritchie seeks to answer with “The Covenant,” a film that’s as much a message about brotherhood, sacrifice and commitment as it is an action thriller, while managing to excel at both.
“The Covenant” is written and directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as John Kinley, a sergeant stationed in Afghanistan during the ongoing conflict against the Taliban. After the film opens with a car bomb killing one of Kinley’s men and their native interpreter, Kinley selects a new interpreter named Ahmed, played by Dar Salim, who is working for the Army in exchange for a visa for him and his family. While Kinley is at first cold towards Ahmed and keeps him at arm’s length, the Afghan slowly earns his respect by proving his skill as an interpreter as well as the ways he can pick up nuances and read suspects. This becomes an important skill for Kinley’s mission and directly saves lives. A gradual bond of respect forms between Kinley and Ahmed, but when disaster strikes Kinley’s unit and leaves him at death’s doorstep, the only thing to keep him alive and bring him back across a land filled with enemies on the prowl is Ahmed’s bravery and determination to not leave a brother behind.
This act of bravery to carry Kinley across miles and miles of enemy territory ultimately saves his life but at the possible expense of Ahmed’s. Kinley arrives back stateside into the arms of his family only to find out that Ahmed and his family are forced underground to take refuge from the revenge and fury of the Taliban. As the US has seemingly left Ahmed to rot underneath red tape and bureaucratic processes, Kinley realizes that the debt he owes to Ahmed, and the covenant between brothers requires payment, no matter the cost to Kinley.
Guy Ritchie’s signature camerawork is once again on display in “The Covenant,” and despite the action sequences not being the focus of the film, his directing gives a tense punch to every moment of violence on screen. Action sequences are hard-hitting with a level of grounded realism underneath, and they’re used strategically in order to build the threat for the moments that aren’t strictly action-focused. They’re not the focus of the film but instead serve as a grounded framework for establishing danger and the ever-present threat to Ahmed and Kinley, and with it, magnify the scope and the scale of Ahmed’s bravery in the face of it.
The standout of “The Covenant” is without a doubt the complex and complicated relationship between these two men, and while Jake Gyllenhall gives a solid performance as Kinley, Dar Salim steals the spotlight in his portrayal of Ahmed. Ahmed is a man who is quiet but calculating, firm and yet kind, brave yet vulnerable and gentle but ruthless in his duty. He’s a man of many sides, an Afghan, a Muslim, a husband, a father, a soldier and a brother, but through them all he is honorable. He serves to protect his family and to give them a better life, he serves to avenge his son who the Taliban has killed and when faced with a climactic choice, serves to save the life of a brother who shares no blood but is bound to him all the same.
Ultimately, what makes “The Covenant” a worthwhile watch isn’t just its action or its acting, but the central, triumphant story of what it means to save another. Ahmed risks everything for Kinley, and when Kinley finally gets everything he wanted back in reach, he can’t let himself take it. The film explores not just the bravery of Ahmed’s actions but the effect and compulsion it has on Kinley to not let it go unanswered. The risks that both men endure for one another and the people they love elevate “The Covenant” from just a cool action movie into a compelling drama with moments of hard-hitting action.
With America’s recent withdrawal from Afghanistan being heavy on the hearts and minds of many, “The Covenant” seeks to draw eyes back towards those who stepped up and risked everything for their countrymen and to help America, and were left abandoned by those very people they aided. “The Covenant” is dedicated to the hundreds of Afghan interpreters who helped Americans and have paid the ultimate price with their lives, and the thousands more actively in hiding with their families. While the story of Kinley and Ahmed is fictional, the thoughts, values and actions of these characters are grounded in reality, the kind of reality that doesn’t always give a happy ending to those who serve and sacrifice when the ones they serve fail to protect them in turn.
I give “The Covenant” an 8/10
“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is now showing in theaters
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.