REVIEW: “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” (2023)

I’m still trying to figure out why Guy Ritchie felt the need to stamp his name in the title of his latest movie, “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant”. Maybe it’s a perk that comes with being the director, co-writer, and co-producer. Maybe it was to distinguish it from the 2006 thriller that shared the same name. Or maybe it’s there to reaffirm it’s his film considering that “The Covenant” feels dramatically different than anything he has done before. Whatever the reason, it’s a bold choice.

Guy Ritchie has always been a hit-or-miss filmmaker, but minus a couple of stumbles I’ve always enjoyed his movies to varying degrees. With “The Covenant” (ahem…I’m sorry… “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant”) he takes his first swing at making a war movie. What we get is not only his most restrained and most focused movie in years. I think it’s Ritchie’s best movie in years period.

Image Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The film is well anchored by its two most crucial performances. Jake Gyllenhaal starts a little dry but really falls into his role as Master Sergeant John Kinley. Set in 2018 Afghanistan, Kinley leads a platoon tasked with hunting down the Taliban’s hidden weapons caches and IED factories. After his interpreter is killed in duty, Kinley hires a local mechanic named Ahmed Abdullah (a sublimely stoic Dar Salim) as a replacement. Their relationship forms the emotional centerpiece of the story.

With his wife expecting their first child, Ahmed takes the job because they need the money. But we also learn he has his own personal history with the Taliban – a history that drives his urge to see them defeated. Despite Kinley’s wariness, over time the headstrong Ahmed proves himself to be a valuable addition. This is never more true than when a raid on a secret IED factory goes bad. Kinley and Ahmed manage to escape on foot and are forced to navigate an ruggedly treacherous no-man’s-land that’s crawling with dogged Taliban soldiers.

Ritchie’s patient buildup to this pivotal point is such a welcomed treat and it’s indicative of his serious-minded approach to his entire story. He temporarily shelves his whiz-bang quip-heavy style and delivers something considerably more grounded. Ritchie still shows his remarkable knack for shooting action. But even it is stripped of any self-aggrandizing flair. Instead Ritchie goes for a more visceral realism that captures the intensity and chaos of actual combat. It’s incredibly effective.

But the key ingredient in the entire movie is that everything is deeply rooted in humanity. Ritchie’s script (which he co-wrote with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) never takes its eyes off the characters and especially the film’s central relationship. This really comes out when Kinley is seriously wounded during their escape. Ahmed drags him across miles of harsh terrain, dodging enemies and keeping Kinley alive by any means necessary.

Image Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

This is where the movie could have easily turned into something contrived or overly sentimental. But (once again) Ritchie’s restraint and deeper focus on the human element ensures that never happens. And later, after Kinley wakes up in a hospital in the States and learns that Ahmed and his family are running for their lives back in Afghanistan, it opens up a whole new batch of themes for Ritchie to explore. Through lines of heroism, sacrifice, brotherhood, integrity are everywhere.

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is by no means a political movie, but Ritchie does make some clear statements about government bureaucracy, our country’s treatment of its veterans, and our failure to meet our responsibilities to those who put their lives on the line to help us while in Afghanistan. Those are some prickly topics and Ritchie doesn’t dig deep into them. But he does emphasize the painful consequences. It’s yet another reason to appreciate what Ritchie has done here. And I really hope we’ll see more of this side of him as a filmmaker. “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is in theaters now.


16 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” (2023)

  1. Glad to hear this one shines. I hadn’t even heard of it until I read this, but will be one I see for sure. Though time will limit it to streaming, as time does most for me.

      • That’s a strange occurrence. I don’t know much about how movie theater and streaming rights work, but I think a lot of them suffer because of the limited exposure. My family as an example, we don’t have cable or satellite so everything we watch is on Apple TV, Netflix, Disney, etc. In the car I listen to songs I’ve downloaded or Apple Music or audiobooks. The only exposure a movie gets to me is if it is highlighted on IMDb or I read about it on one of the review blogs I follow. They have to learn to get to us that are off the grid, at least the advertising grid.

      • That’s a really interesting point. Standard advertising has changed. I think that’s a big reason I see so many movie adds on platforms like YouTube. It’s definitely something they are going to need to address. Otherwise we aren’t going to get as many of these mid-budget movies (especially ones aimed at adults).

  2. Guy Ritchie hit/miss for me but I do think he’s a solid filmmaker though why would anyone want to remember that awful 2006 Renny Harlin film where the only person in that film that understood the assignment was a young Sebastian Stan who was obviously working with amateurs who couldn’t do shit.

  3. I think it is Ritchie’s best film, and right now it is my favorite of the year. The title is almost certainly some stupidity along the lines of “Lee Daniels The Butler”, someone bitching about the title being connected to another film. As far as I’m concerned, this one rises to the level that justifies his John Carpenter’s…approach.

  4. Yes then a horrendous movie like GoG Vol 3 grosses 500 million. We abandoned those translators. Disgusting.

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