‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ Review: Jake Gyllenhaal Plays a Man Determined to Honor a Debt in Gripping Afghan War Drama (2024)

After building a career on flashy action, explosive set pieces and quippy bad-boy dialogue, Guy Ritchie dials things down to a pleasing degree, focusing more on human factors like honor, loyalty and dogged perseverance in the war thriller The Covenant. That doesn’t mean the director has abandoned his taste for brawny physical elements. But this is a serious-minded, well-acted drama that shows just as keen an interest in character, specifically the integrity of two men from vastly different cultures who provide the story of brotherhood and survival with its racing pulse.

The official title of the MGM/STX release is Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, and while it’s tempting to respond with an eye roll to the Brit director’s elevation to auteur status 25 years into his highly variable career, the reasoning behind the decision reportedly was to distinguish the film from the dire 2006 horror thriller of the same name. Wouldn’t it have been easier just to come up with a different title? (The project was initially developed as The Interpreter.)

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Guy Ritchie's The Covenant

The Bottom LineA gritty change of pace for the director.

Release date: Friday, April 21
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Antony Starr, Alexander Ludwig, Bobby Schofield, Emily Beecham, Jonny Lee Miller, Fariba Sheikhan
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriters: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies
Rated R,2 hours 3 minutes

Either way, it’s ironic that this might be the most atypical Guy Ritchie film to date. Sure, there’s a certain numbing familiarity to American military dudes exchanging mock-gay banter as if the very notion of queerness in uniform is hilarious, and the dialogue in the script by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies indulges in one or two Big Noble Speeches. But for the most part, the project shows a new maturity, avoiding the glib facetiousness and tricksy plotting that have so often been part of the Ritchie stamp.

In U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. John Kinley, Jake Gyllenhaal has found a meaty role that deftly fuses his action-thriller experience with the quieter interiority of his more character-driven work. He plays a level-headed soldier who narrowly escapes a hairy ordeal alive, subsequently falling apart and rebuilding himself when he discovers that his country’s promises to the man to whom he owes his life have not been honored.

A quick prologue shows Kinley’s unit at a vehicle checkpoint, where a truck rigged with explosives takes out one of his men as well as their Afghan interpreter. Back at the air base, John handpicks polyglot former mechanic Ahmed (Dar Salim) to replace the interpreter, despite his headstrong reputation. The unit’s mission is to find Taliban munitions caches and IEDs, but their intel has been shaky, yielding frustration as John’s final tour of duty drags on.

Commanding officer Col. Vokes (Jonny Lee Miller) agrees to turn a blind eye when Kinley suggests a less by-the-book approach and obtains a list of unvetted targets from his buddy Sgt. Declan O’Brady (Alexander Ludwig). Twice during the moves that follow, Ahmed oversteps his rank, but his instincts prove correct, saving the unit from fresh casualties. Likewise, his background in the drug trade, at one time in partnership with the Taliban, provides useful insight.

The film balances John’s video calls home to his wife, Caroline (Emily Beecham), in California with Ahmed’s reassurances to his pregnant wife, Basira (Fariba Sheikhan), that they need to be patient and continue waiting for the special immigrant visa promised by the U.S. to Afghan interpreters and their families.

What’s surprising about The Covenant is that the usual gung-ho American military bravery is mostly downplayed to focus on the strategic backup provided by on-the-ground interpreters, who risked being branded as infidels, ostracized by their compatriots and tagged for Taliban reprisals. Fifty thousand of them were employed over the two decades of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, with many killed before America could make good on its agreement to relocate them. The title refers as much to that pact as the unspoken pledge between John and Ahmed.

The screenplay weaves in just enough doubt about Ahmed’s allegiances to create tension early on. But his trustworthiness becomes clear during the nail-biting centerpiece sequence that results in a high fatality count and leaves the interpreter and Kinley fleeing on foot. Ritchie is in his element with this weapons action, with the protagonists far outnumbered by Taliban assailants, though he keeps the fates of the two men in focus without any sensationalized battle bravado.

With John badly wounded, the thriller shifts gears to track Ahmed’s resourceful efforts to deliver the sergeant back to the American air base, hauling him across rugged mountain ranges to avoid the roads and checkpoints where they are being hunted and giving him opium to ease the pain.

The narrative is switched up again once John is safely returned to California, losing his grip as his foggy memories become clear and he learns that Ahmed and his family have had to go into hiding from the Taliban. John’s growing rage with the maddening bureaucracy gives Gyllenhaal other shades to play; the calm control John showed in Afghanistan gives way to PTSD, excessive drinking and abusive outbursts on armed forces helplines. Given little choice, he undertakes to return to Afghanistan and repay the debt himself, securing the aid of military contractor Eddie Parker (Antony Starr) in another high-risk agreement that may or may not be honored.

Shot by Ed Wild in the mountainous landscapes of Alicante, Spain, the movie has a big, muscular look, with lots of expansive drone shots to isolate the characters in vast stretches of hostile territory. Without over-relying on the visual cliché of handheld agitation, the camerawork is nimble and exciting in both the central gunfight and the climactic clash at a dam designated as the safest extraction point. (Wild cites the late British conflict-zone photojournalist Tim Hetherington’s work as an inspiration.)

Ritchie and his regular editor James Herbert maintain a steady but propulsive pace over the two-hour duration, pushed along by a suspenseful score from Chris Benstead that makes evocative use of dissonant strings.

Gyllenhaal and Iraq-born Danish actor Salim are well matched in what’s at heart a two-man show, resulting in a solid, satisfying war thriller that spreads its attention evenly between hellish combat and resilient humanity. The sobering footnote that the Taliban seized back control of the Kabul government almost immediately after the withdrawal of American troops underscores the film’s welcome reluctance to glorify its subject matter.

‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’ Review: Jake Gyllenhaal Plays a Man Determined to Honor a Debt in Gripping Afghan War Drama (2024)


What is Guy Ritchie's The Covenant movie about? ›

Is Guy Ritchie's The Covenant inappropriate? ›

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (2023)

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

How much of The Covenant movie is true? ›

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.

Is The Covenant movie worth watching? ›

This is one fantastic movie. The soundtrack brings sadness, and some scenes with a translator... This is a well-made movie, a true army flick, made by real men for men! War is never good, but friendship and valor are always worth of admire.

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.

Was The Covenant filmed in Afghanistan? ›

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.

What were 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 The Covenant movie religious? ›

This film alludes to the political conflict over our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and focuses on the story of two men who put everything on the line to save each other's lives. From a Judeo Christian perspective, it's a parable of personal sacrifice and righting wrongs, suffering the pain.

What happened to Pooya in The Covenant? ›

Pooya probably survived after the 2021 offensive on Afghanistan continued with his malicious acts.

Is Guy Ritchie rich? ›

I'm A Celeb winner reveals terrifying hospital dash after collapsing. It comes after Ritchie claimed between £60,000 and £160,000 during the Covid furlough scheme to help pay staff wages. Ritchie is worth an estimated £100 million and owns a 1,000 acre estate in Wiltshire and recently bought a neighbouring airstrip.

Was there a Covenant 2 movie? ›

In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the world of "Alien" with the prequel movie "Prometheus." In 2017, the story continued with "Alien: Covenant." Scott said in multiple interviews that he planned to keep the story going. But so far, that hasn't happened.

How many humans died to The Covenant? ›

The war was incredibly costly to both sides, with over twenty-three billion human casualties and enormous Covenant military losses, including the mobile homeworld of High Charity. The war ultimately lasted for a total of twenty-eight years.

How violent is Guy Ritchie's The Covenant? ›

GUY RITCHIE'S THE COVENANT is a US action drama in which an interpreter stranded in enemy territory risks his life to save a wounded soldier. Scenes of strong violence feature characters being shot, with resultant blood spurts. Characters are slashed with knives and their throats are cut, and others are strangled.

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.

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.

What is The Covenant about summary? ›

What happened to Kinley and Ahmed? ›

After Kinley's squad is massacred, and he's gravely injured, Ahmed carries his wounded body for miles, traveling between cities to obtain medication and safety. While Kinley is transported out by the Americans, Ahmed is not rescued, and remains a fugitive of the Taliban.

Who is the bad guy in The Covenant? ›

Pooya is the main antagonist of Guy Ritchie's film The Covenant (2023). Pooya is an intelligent and important leader of the Taliban who is very mysterious and capable of scaring people with his acts of terrorism. Pooya does not act but only gives orders in the film. He is portrayed by Abbas Fasaei.

Is Chase the bad guy in The Covenant? ›

Steven Strait (Caleb Danvers), Taylor Kitsch (Pogue Parry), Toby Hemingway (Reid Garwin), and Chase Crawford (Tyler Sims) played the four main characters concentrated on. Sebastian Stan (Chase Collins) plays the villain.

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