It may be a compulsion of mine, but usually when I see a director's name in front of a title, I roll my eyes a little. To me, it brings a heightened display of ego on part of the filmmaker that is almost unnecessary and makes it appear that audiences are going because of the filmmaker itself. If the movie does its job and represents your vision, people will know it's yours. For some, however, they do go see a movie simply because they love the filmmaker and don't care what they make. I think of Tarintino movies, that also always advertise on each poster, "A New Film By Quentin Tarintino." Which is stating the obvious, but Tartintino does it as part of his tongue-and-cheek schtick with his old Hollywood infatuation that comes off in his movies. You would always see movies with filmmakers names on it like with DeMille, Hitchcock or Ford. More modern film's turn away from that, even in true auteur movies. You don't see George Lucas' Star Wars, or Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. But you do see it here with The Covenant, and I think that's because Guy Ritchie wants you to know this is his movie, his idea and his message. So my eyes rolled going into this, but by the end of the movie I was okay with it.
The film is all about the waning days of the US military involvement in Afghanistan and pushes hard on the role that Afghan interpreters played with the US. For starters, we need to remember this is NOT a true story, but rather a symbol of what is happening in Afghanistan, and maybe a message about what we should be doing to support these interpreters. The film has an interesting opening act where we make a big deal about Jake Gyllenhaal's character, John Kinley's squad. Needless to say, without too many spoilers, it's not long before we don't have to worry about them anymore. The majority of the film centers around Kinley and his squad's new interpreter, Ahmed, who was played beautifully by Dar Salim. The two of them find themselves stuck way behind enemy lines and they need to find their way back.
There were times I was worried this movie was going to go full Rambo, but it always pulls back just in time. The Taliban soldiers were always present and they provided plenty of kills for our stars to rack up. Seriously, the body count was much higher than I was expecting. However, with the over the top action at times, the movie does remain grounded in the tension of them trying to get back. The situations are fun creative and well thought out, I just wish some of the dialogue had been polished up a little bit more. Sometimes, the things Kinley says is a bit wooden and something you wouldn't expect to hear come from a master sergeant to a colonel. I feel like they tried to make him more like Maverick, but more badass.
Again, Salim's Ahmend was the star performance and character. His acting and character was believable and real, which was key to getting us to care about the film's true message about interpreters, and thus making us as viewers invested in the movie. There was some beautiful and occasionally distracting drone shots, clunky dialogue, and surprisingly great score that helped hide all the blemishes. I honestly can't remember the last time I was in a movie and thought about how nice it was to have a score really go well with this film. Well done.
In short, this was a good time to be had. Do you need to see it in the theaters? Don't really need to. However, it's a great one to pull up on a streaming service after the kids are asleep and you and your partner look at each other and ask, "What do you want to watch tonight?" You will probably enjoy it. Then once you watch it, you'll understand why it's Guy Ritchies's The Covenant. Because the title was taken by a half dozen other movies, mostly horror films. This naming convention will help you remember which one we're talking about... that Afghan Rambo movie.