Review: ‘The Covenant’ personifies the war in Afghanistan

“The Covenant” currently has an 81% approval rating among critics and a 98% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

A movie poster for "The Covenant."
Guy Ritchie's "The Covenant" is a new release at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. The action-thriller stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an Army sergeant in the war in Afghanistan.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — They were brothers from another mother and they had a bond that could not be broken.

Guy Ritchie’s “The Covenant” is a harrowing new release in theaters about the two-decades-long war in Afghanistan starring Jake Gyllenhaal as U.S. Army Sgt. John Kinley, whose life was saved by an Afghan interpreter named Ahmed played by Dar Salim.

The working relationship between Kinley and Ahmed initially gets off to a rocky start. The U.S. military serving in Afghanistan doesn’t know exactly who among the indigenous population to trust and rely upon for intelligence about the Taliban, a strict and violent Islamic organization.

In fact, the ironically stoic interpreter Ahmed disobeys his commander officer Kinley on a couple of occasions for what turns out to be life-saving actions although Kinley finds Ahmed difficult to work with and their relationship can be best described as prickly at best.

Ahmed also has reservations about the occupying U.S. military force arguably taking over his beloved country but admittedly answers when questioned that he is only agreeing to act as an interpreter for the money. But by doing so, Ahmed’s branded as a traitor by some Afghans.


The tension between the two alpha males simmers from the very beginning of their relationship and boils over when the soldiers encounter the Taliban far from the U.S. military base and without support from the installation. They are on their own and must learn to trust each other.

But can they and will they and how? How do two people from very different cultures or worlds? The movie trailers for the action-thriller make no secret that Ahmed at one point in the two-hour motion picture that is rated R saves Kinley’s life but for what reason exactly and how?

And when Kinley makes the soul-searching decision to return to the war-torn country that is arguably hostile to Americans to save Ahmed from the Taliban — whose life the former sergeant has put in danger simply by interpreting for U.S. troops — will the wounded veteran triumph?

Gyllenhaal has proven himself over the years by playing various roles and received widespread acclaim in the groundbreaking cinematic love story “Brokeback Mountain,” a then-forbidden romance between two cowboys directed by Ang Lee and costarring the late Heath Ledger.

It’s hard to imagine the Oscar-nominated Gyllenhaal would be one of the most accomplished actors of his generation after making his acting debut in the cowboy classic “City Slickers” playing the son of Billy Crystal, who is having a midlife crisis in the comedy-western.

Gyllenhaal has always brought passion, it seems, to the characters he plays on the big screen and is no doubt helped by his big brown soulful eyes, which seem to convey a lot without any written words from a script and he brings that intensity to the role of Kinley the Army veteran.

The film co-written by Ritchie is as close to combat as moviegoers may want to get and will have some leaving the theater with shaken for his unflinching yet simultaneously restrained portrayal of the war in Afghanistan, with no easy answers when American troops left the country.

The big set pieces of exploding Taliban hideouts and nerve-rattling encounters with Taliban soldiers intent on killing Americans are offset by the personal drama and intimate moments between the initial strangers Kinley and Ahmed looking to find common ground.


“The Covenant” currently has an 81% approval rating among critics and a 98% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

The consensus from the critics at “A satisfying, well-acted war thriller with surprising dramatic depths, Guy Ritchie's ‘The Covenant’ tells a solid story with impressive restraint.”

FRANK LEE is the movie columnist for the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at 218-631-6470 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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