REVIEW: “Kandahar” (2023)

It had always been hard to know what to expect from a Gerard Butler movie. The very same guy who was so good in the crowdpleasing “300”, the unexpectedly great “Coriolanus”, and the captivating “The Vanishing” has also given us such misfires as “Playing for Keeps”, “Gods of Egypt”, and “Geostorm”. I genuinely like Butler and he’s an actor I root for. But for a long time it seemed like his stinkers were a lot more common than his good movies.

Yet in recent years Butler seems to have found a sweet spot. With last year’s “Last Seen Alive” being the lone exception, he has put out some quality genre entertainment with film’s like 2020’s “Greenland”, 2021’s “Cop Shop”, and especially “Plane” from earlier this year. Now you can add “Kandahar” to the list. This well made action thriller sees Butler re-teaming with director Ric Roman Waugh (the two last worked together on “Greenland”).

The story is written by Mitchell Lafortune, a former military intelligence officer who pulls from his own experiences of being deployed in Afghanistan. His script features a lot of moving parts and at times it can be hard keeping up with the various players, their alliances, and their allegiances. But Lafortune does a good job showing the region as a geopolitical powder keg. A place where ancient wars and modern interests clash in a number of violent and deadly ways. A place where peace almost seems like a pipe dream.

Image Courtesy of Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

Butler plays Tom Harris, a deep cover CIA operative who we first meet in Qom, Iran. He and his mission partner, Oliver (Tom Rhys Harries) are posing as technicians hired by the Iranian government to work on telephone lines for better internet service. In reality they’re secretly working with the Pentagon to sabotage a nearby nuclear weapons facility. It’s the latest move in a shadow war being carried out by the U.S. as a way to circumvent their public ‘no boots on the ground’ policy. The nuclear facility is soon destroyed and Tom preps to head home.

But rather than leaving, Tom is convinced by an embedded U.S. asset and friend named Roman (Travis Trimmel) to help with an “easy” three-day mission. Assisting Tom is an Afghan translator named Moe (Navid Negahban) who we learn has his own personal reasons for being in the region. But before they can even begin preparations everything falls apart.

An ambitious whisteblower working in Iran named Luna Cajai (Nina Toussaint-White) is desperate to blow the lid off the Pentagon’s covert operations in the Middle East. Following the nuclear site’s destruction she gets leaked intel exposing the U.S. involvement. In her rush to get her story to the airwaves, Luna gets sloppy. The Iranian government gets wind of her intel and take her into custody. Meanwhile the press recklessly runs with Luna’s story, blowing Tom and Moe’s cover.

Image Courtesy of Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

The bulk of the film’s runtime focuses on Tom and Moe’s race to reach their extraction point located at an old CIA base in Kandahar province. They have a limited time to get there and 400 miles to cover. But in between is territory crawling with Taliban forces and hostile warring militias. To make matters worse, Iranian intelligence agents led by Agent Farzad Asadi (Bahador Foladi) are hot on their trail. And Pakistan’s I.S.I. has hired a ruthless mercenary (Ali Fazal) to capture Tom first in hopes of selling him on the open market.

As you can tell there are a lot of pieces to put into place and we get plenty of table-setting in the first 30 minutes or so. As mentioned it’s not always easy to follow who’s with who, but the film always keeps your interest. Along the way Lafortune’s script attempts to reveal the humanity of the characters by showing glimpses of their family lives. It works better for some than it does others.

The majority of “Kandahar” was shot in Saudi Arabia which does a great job filling in for Afghanistan and Iraq. And while it isn’t the thrill-a-minute ride the trailer suggests, the action scenes we get are intense and exciting, especially in the riveting final third where things really ratchet up. As for Butler, he’s given a character who fits his strengths nicely – rugged and resolute yet sympathetic and even vulnerable at times. “Kandahar” let’s him convey each of those traits, all while offering a candid portrayal of a troubled part of the world and throwing in a little popcorn entertainment to boot. “Kandahar” opens in theaters this Friday.


14 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Kandahar” (2023)

  1. Uh… no thanks. Still don’t like SHUT-UP BUTT-WAD!!!!

    I just heard the news about the Queen. R.I.P. Tina Turner. Remember, play “River Deep Mountain High” at the loudest possible volume.

  2. Thanks for the review, as I had pretty much written off anything with Butler in it. Last Seen Alive just crushed my soul for wasting so much of my time. But this sounds pretty good, at least entertaining, and will be interesting to see how a former military intelligence officer offers his view of Afghanistan. I remember a quote from 9th Company where the troops were told people have been trying to take over Afghanistan for 2,000 years, they all failed, and we will fail. When America went in a couple of decades ago I thought of Winston Churchill… “doomed to repeat it.”

  3. I’m in for this. I was really impressed with Greenland, I actually love that movie. Grounded and gritty, with more of a human focus than I was expecting.

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