A former Army sergeant returns to Afghanistan to rescue the interpreter who once saved his life from the Taliban.
THE GOOD STUFF
Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim– As one may be able to tell by the trailer as the promotional material for this film, all of the heavy lifting is done by these two actors. At this point, Jake Gyllenhaal is synonymous with quality dramatic performances, and this is no different. Is it amongst the best work that he’s ever done? No. But it does speak a lot to his resume that a performance this strong might not even crack the top 10 of his best performances, honestly.
Dar Salim is a true revelation here. He’s a Danish actor who has been working pretty steadily in Danish projects throughout the years, and it’s a hell of a casting choice opposite an intense actor like Gyllenhaal. The chemistry between the two is on point when they’re on screen, and the (largely silent) sections of the film that capture the heroism of Salim’s character are truly amazing sequences. This should be one of the bigger breakouts of 2023.
THE SECOND ACT- The true achievement of this film is what it pulls off in the second act. There have been plenty of war movies throughout the decades that show heroism in a very glorious way. Sometimes it’s done very artistically and brutally, and sometimes it’s shown in a very team America-ish type of way. This movie’s second act is a very long foot chase sequence. On paper, it had to have read very boringly, that’s where the direction of Guy Ritchie comes in.
This is one of the few war films that are so straightforward and tells you in a very uncomplicated way that simply getting from point A to point B without a vehicle in a war zone is a difficult thing. Sure, gun fights and explosions are very fluorescent examples of heroism, but as the second act of this movie shows, sometimes teamwork and looking after your fellow soldier to get an objective done is heroism all within itself.
THE ACTION- That’s not to say there are not some outstanding action sequences in this film. Every act of this film (for which I think there are four) has a creative set piece designed around a chase sequence and/or elaborate shootout.
A lot of war films these days tend to present themselves as action films set in war circumstances. Things like a lot of quick cuts, slow-mo gunplay, and epic orchestral scores turned all the way up to 10 seems very Michael Bay-ish. Somehow the action in this film manages to be graphic but not gory and thrilling in its own way simply by presenting the action simplistically. The climactic car chase shootout sequence of this film is especially well done.
THE BAD STUFF
FAMILY STUFF- One thing this film points out over and over again is how imperative the family life of each of these men is. We do see them fighting tooth and nail to preserve their families. We see their kids, we see their wives, and though they are technically characters in this film, they do have lines to actually speak….. It does feel like they are there to fill in the holes in the story that there would be if they didn’t get shown on screen at all.
It is, in fact a decision made by the wife of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character that allows the second act of the movie even to take place. Unfortunately, she only has that one scene to do anything substantial. Shout out to Emily Beecham, who does what she can with what she’s given.
THE UGLY STUFF
This is the perfect movie to summarize the stylings of Guy Ritchie. Is this an all-time great war movie? No. Is this movie innovating the genre in any way? Also no. But you know what? This movie is pretty damn good. And that doesn’t sound like much of a compliment until you realize that pretty damn good films are in the wheelhouse of Guy Ritchie. And he’s been in the game making these pretty damn good films for 25 years.
THE COVENANT (I refuse to call it “Guy Ritchie’s: The Covenant” btw. FOH) is in theaters now.