Guy Ritchie's The Covenant movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (2024)


Guy Ritchie's The Covenant movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (1)

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For about half of “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” a big, explosive Afghanistan-set war flick, the bombastic director nearly forgets that his name is attached to the film's title. Instead, the movie plays more like the second half of its clunky title;it’s initially a pensive, self-aware story of a rugged American Sergeant named John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his observant Afghan translator Ahmed (Dar Salim) who live every day with a tacit agreement. Through Ahmed’s work, a job that puts him at grave risk of retaliation by the Taliban, he and his wife (Fariba Sheikhan) and child will be given visas to the United States. “The Covenant” operates best as a quiet, taut character drama that tests America's myriad of failed promises to the Middle Eastern country and its people.


If “The Covenant” were only an interrogation of the hollowness of American exceptionalism, as its first hour suggests, it’d be among the most honest portrayals of the country’s role in the region. But Ritchie eventually awakens from his stupor, pushing this combat-action flick to gonzo territory.

In “The Covenant,” we’re immediately given an immersive view of the dangers hanging over all involved. For instance, during the opening scene Kinley and his men—a team specializing in the recovery of explosives or weapons of mass destruction—are conducting roadside checks. Their translator attempts to get an Afghan truck driver to open his payload, only for a bomb to be detonated, murdering the translator and two other soldiers. When Ahmed arrives to fill the vacant position, it might surprise the viewer to hear his brusqueness; the job is merely a paycheck to him. We discover later that Ahmed is more attached to bringing down the Taliban than he lets on.

That stoicism gives the script by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies so much intrigue. Because though the gaze of cinematographer Ed Wild’s camera appears attached to Kinley, it’s actually enraptured by Ahmed. From knowing the local drug trade to being able to tell when someone is lying instantly, Ahmed demonstrates that he is an intelligent man intimately aware of the happenings around him. He is unafraid to speak up or to go off script, such as negotiating with an informant or correcting the unamused Kinley of his errors. Salim is totally connected with how his broad frame plays to the camera; how these soldiers see him as a threat, often not even acknowledging his presence, even though he is there to help them. Sadim also displays an intelligence that runs counter to the brawny, gut-check soldier seen in other war films.

However, fissures break open when Ritchie turns his visual interests away from Salim to Gyllenhaal. When an attack leaves Ahmed and Kinley fighting through the Afghan wilderness back to base, the specter of the unequal relationship Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis shared in “The Defiant Ones” rears its ugly head: Will this partnership cause Kinley to finally see the inherent humanity of Ahmed? Admittedly, Kinley doesn’t wholly disregard Ahmed’s presence like Curtis does to Poitier. It's suggested through Gyllenhaal’s psychologically firm performance that he trusts and even somewhat admires Ahmed. And yet, the personal distance outside the workplace setting of war is apparent. As opposed to the other soldiers under his care, Kinley would rather not know anything about Ahmed, making their flight toward freedom through the wilderness an uneven arrangement whereby Ahmed is tethered to Kinsely not solely through loyalty (and really, not even out of friendship), but an unearned honoring of the camaraderie shared by soldiers in combat.


From there, “The Covenant” quickly flies off the rails as it aligns closer to being like other Ritchie movies, such as “Wrath of Man” or “The Gentlemen.” Kinley experiences rabid fever dreams shot from oblique angles, with frames sped up and slowed down, as a cacophony of sights and sounds nearly overwhelm the picture. The film’s entire second half also devolves into Kinley, now back home in America, trying to obtain visas for Ahmed and his family, who are in hiding.

The phone calls by Kinley, which force him to jump through bureaucratic hoops, express how apathetic the system is toward Afghan translators. Ritchie tells of a reality that sees America promising one thing, only to use up their ally and then cut them loose when they are of no more value. It’s a story that arose two years agowhen America withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving many collaborators at the mercy of the Taliban. America’s failure is a truth worth telling, but Ritchie can’t help himself but to dress these scenes with grating, melodramatic cliches. Kinley’s dutiful wife (Emily Beecham) is outlined as merely a supportive spouse, and Kinley becomes a character based more on shock value than aching, organic feelings.

Gyllenhaal does his best to shoulder Ritchie’s consistent tonal missteps. But there’s only so much he can do as his director steers “The Covenant” closer to James Bond territory. The explosions go bigger, the slow motion goes slower, and the bullets seemingly fly further in a final set piece placed atop a dam that defies the firm realism that governs the film's first half. As black site contractors use an AC-130 gunship (an angel of death) to help Kinley and Ahmed, should we be grateful for the overwhelming firepower on display or rightfully horrified? When the credits roll, and we see white soldiers smiling with their arms around their Afghan translators—some with their faces blurred or their eyes blacked out—should we be touched or haunted?

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” could have beenmore than a muscular, overwrought war film. It could have beena revealing and controlled, thought-provoking examination of what went wrong in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the latter is a promise that Ritchie can’t keep.

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Film Credits

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (9)

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (2023)

Rated Rfor violence, language throughout and brief drug content.

123 minutes


Jake Gyllenhaalas Sgt. John Kinley

Dar Salimas Ahmed

Antony Starras Eddie Parker

Alexander Ludwigas Sergeant Declan O'Brady

Emily Beechamas Caroline Kinley

Jason Wongas Joshua 'JJ' Jung

Bobby Schofieldas Steve Kersher

Sean Sagaras Charlie Crowther

Reza Diakoas Haadee

Abbas Fasaeias Pooya


  • Guy Ritchie


  • Ivan Atkinson
  • Marn Davies
  • Guy Ritchie


  • Ed WIld


  • James Herbert


  • Christopher Benstead

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Guy Ritchie's The Covenant movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (2024)


Is Covenant 2023 worth watching? ›

A pledge. A commitment. Guy Ritchie's The Covenant is a great movie with an interesting story on an important subject matter. It has some intense action scenes and many moments of suspense.

What is the rating for Guy Ritchie's The Covenant? ›

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (2023)

Rated R for violence, language throughout and brief drug content.

Should I watch Guy Ritchie's The Covenant? ›

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant Reviews

...a stirring action picture that grows more and more absorbing as it unfolds... In telling a specific story of wartime camaraderie, the film offers good fodder for discussions of grace, guilt, and the gospel.

What was the last movie reviewed by Ebert? ›

The last review by Ebert published during his lifetime was for the film The Host, which was published on March 27, 2013. The last review Ebert wrote was for To the Wonder, which he gave 3.5 out of 4 stars in a review for the Chicago Sun-Times. It was posthumously published on April 6, 2013.

Is The Covenant based on a true story in 2023? ›

The Covenant is not based on a true story but is inspired by the collective experiences of interpreters and soldiers in the war in Afghanistan. Jake Gyllenhaal's character, John Kinley, is not a real person but is instead inspired by real sergeants who worked with interpreters.

How scary is The Covenant movie? ›

It is a great little thriller, it isn't incredibly scary, but it is not meant to be. This movie is something you have to take for what it is, it's a movie, it's got a good background origins, they have great explanations for things that happen in the film, it connects together well.

Why is it called Guy Ritchie's The Covenant? ›

The official story is that we are calling this film "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" to distinguish it from the 2006 film The Covenant. But I've got another theory. I reckon we're putting Guy Ritchie's name on it, because otherwise no one would believe it was one of his. The Covenant is a film in three parts.

What are they smoking in The Covenant movie? ›

Two men smoke opium (for medicinal purposes). Beer is drank between multiple men. We hear that a man used to work in the heroin trade. A man gets drunk and throws a beer bottle at a mirror in righteous anger.

Is Guy Ritchie's The Covenant supposed to have subtitles? ›

There are so many subtitles in “Guy Ritchie's The Covenant” you'll wonder if it's a foreign film. It isn't, but that doesn't keep Ritchie from leading the audience through the story of two men determined to help each other get out of Afghanistan.

Where was Guy Ritchie's The Covenant filmed? ›

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant was filmed in Spain, not Afghanistan, but managed to beautifully capture the visual identity of the Middle East. Alicante, a popular tourist destination, was an interesting choice to represent Afghanistan due to its temperate hilly desert countryside.

Did Guy Ritchie's The Covenant make money? ›

Its plot follows John Kinley, a U.S. Army Green Beret master sergeant, and Ahmed, his Afghan interpreter, fighting the Taliban. The film was theatrically released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and STXfilms in the United States on April 21, 2023, received generally positive reviews from critics and has grossed $21 million.

How violent is The Covenant movie? ›

Violence & Scariness

Relentless violence, with lots of guns and shooting. Buildings and vehicles explode. Many characters are killed. Gory corpses seen.

What were Roger Ebert's last words? ›

Sometime ago, I heard that Roger Ebert's wife, Chaz, talked about Roger's last words. He died of cancer in 2013. “Life is but a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

How old was Ebert when he died? ›

On April 4, 2013, one of America's best-known and most influential movie critics, Roger Ebert, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, dies at age 70 after battling cancer.

What is the best movie of all time by critics? ›

Citizen Kane (1941), starring and directed by Orson Welles, has topped several international polls, including five consecutive decades at number 1 in the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound decennial poll of critics.

Is The Covenant series good? ›

Armentrout. This is one of my all-time favorite series, and I'm so glad I finally got around to re-reading them. Jennifer Armentrout is an auto-buy author for me, and whenever I'm in a reading slump, I tend to turn to her.

Is Covenant a sequel to Prometheus? ›

A joint American and British production, it is a sequel to Prometheus (2012), the second entry in the Alien prequel series, and the sixth installment in the series but counting crossovers eighth film in the overall Alien franchise (three of which have been directed by Scott).

Do you need to watch Prometheus before Covenant? ›

Still in prequel mode here, as Alien: Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus, the story picks up 11 years later and follows a colonization ship. The crew gets pulled out of stasis years early and heads to a different target planet, a possible "utopia," to track down a distress signal.

Are Kandahar and Covenant the same? ›

Kandahar is the second action-drama about Afghanistan I've seen in the last month. Guy Ritchie's The Covenant is about the same subject matter. It's different but also very similar. I find it amusing to see the return of very similar movies released in the same year (think Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down).

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