Review by Dan Skip Allen
(L to R) Dar Salim as Ahmed, Jason Wong as Joshua "JJ Jung", Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. John Kinley, Christian Ochoa as Eduardo "Chow Chow" Lopez, and Rhys Yates as Tom "Tom Cat" Hancock in THE COVENANT, directed by Guy Ritchie, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Christopher Raphael / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The definition of a covenant is an agreement or pact. In Guy Richie's The Covenant, that title means the world — especially to Jake Gyllehall's character, Sgt. Michael Kinley. Richie delves into the Gulf War for the first time. His kinetic fast-paced style comes in handy for this war film about an unspoken brotherhood in the military. This is one of the best films I've seen this year, and it's because of that brotherhood that I love this movie so much.
Michael Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Master Sergeant in the Army. He leads an elite group of men who focus on finding IEDs in Afghanistan. While doing a search of vehicles during a routine stop, the team's translator gets killed in a bombing. While back on base, the leader recruits a new interpreter: Ahmed (Dar Salim). He has a little history of being hard to work with, but he and Gyllenhaal's character form an understanding, and they begin to trust each other to great results.
I've seen many war films, from WWII to the various wars recently in the Middle East. Guy Richie's style is perfectly used to make a war film like this come to life. The action is fast-paced and kinetic. There were multiple scenes that were heart-pounding. I was on the edge of my seat. Richie brought me into these moments like I was literally there. It was done so realistically that I felt exhausted while watching these scenes.
Even though this movie is very intense and graphic, it also has a funny side, mainly because of the way the military guys talk to one another. These men in this elite group have a shorthand that is pretty funny. They also give each other names, which had me chuckling at the beginning of the film. This type of dialogue adds to the authenticity of this story. I'm sure people in the military can corroborate this type of talk.
This film has two distinct stories, though. The screenplay was written by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies. They split this film into two parts — two halves of a whole. The first half is about American soldiers doing their job in Afghanistan, when a scenario has them fighting for their survival. The other half of the movie is about that unsaid brotherhood between these two men. Each side focuses on one of the two main stars in the film.
Another star of this movie is the subtitles. Although this is an English-language movie, it has many subtitles because of where it takes place. The Middle Eastern languages are presented in subtitles on the screen. Most of the time, quite a bit of information is put on screen using these subtitles — such as character names and or military jargon — but mostly they are used for characters to have conversations. This is one of the most creative uses of subtitles I've seen in a film since Slumdog Millionaire from my perspective.
I wasn't expecting much from Guy Ritchie's The Covenant. It was going under the radar for me, but I was sorely mistaken. This is one of the best war films I've seen in years. It has war scenes that are so well choreographed, and the violence and action throughout are nail-biting. I was literally on the edge of my seat during a bunch of these scenes. That said, the real heart of the film is the relationship between these two men. They understand their roles in this war. Once their jobs are done, this story takes it to another level of storytelling. The screenplay is impeccably written by Richie and others. His direction goes to another level, though. It's a pleasant surprise from beginning to end.
Guy Ritchie's The Covenant hits theaters on April 21.