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The Covenant Review: Compelling drama reveals the heart of a hero

Dar Salim and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. Screenshot: MGM/youtube.com
Dar Salim and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. Screenshot: MGM/youtube.com

Covenants have been key to God’s redemptive plan to rescue humanity from its fallen state since Genesis.

Defined by obligations and commitments, covenants bind the two partners with promises to each other to work towards a common goal.

They are personal, selfless and, unlike a contract, move a person to make sacrifices that go beyond reasonable expectations.

In a society consumed with the self, there is a desperate need for a focus on these bonds that, through responsibility, struggle and perseverance, bring about the very best of humanity.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, now available to stream on Prime Video, does just that, telling a story of man’s capacity for sacrifice, loyalty and redemption against the backdrop of war.

Set in Afghanistan, US Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) leads a team specialising in tracking down Taliban weapons of mass destruction with the support of interpreters.

These locals risk their lives and those of their families for the reward of attaining visas to the US.

After his interpreter is killed at a roadside checkpoint, Kinley recruits Ahmed Abdullah (Dar Salim), an Afghani motivated by money and the memory of his son who was murdered by extremists.

Though Ahmed’s actions and history with the Taliban put his loyalty in question, he soon finds respect after his knowledge and intuition helps his brothers in arms avoid an ambush and obtain valuable intelligence.

The team soon find a major Taliban weapons cache but are quickly overrun, leaving Kinley’s unit dead except for the seriously wounded sergeant and his Afghan interpreter.

Stranded miles within enemy lines, a stoic Ahmed must bring Kinley back to their US base while avoiding the Taliban.

Kinley is soon discharged and returns home but learns that Ahmed was not given a visa and is on the run, with his wife and young child.

Wracked with guilt, Kinley returns to Afghanistan to save his friend after failing to find help through the proper channels.

The Covenant is not a true story but a human story, which contrasts the covenant of brotherhood between two men with the abandonment of Afghanistan by US forces.

Energetic and emotional, writer and director Guy Ritchie produces a compelling narrative that unpacks the idea of heroism down to mankind’s most inner motivation.

He leans on drama rather than dialogue to realise the protagonists harrowing experience, which is sure to culminate in an authentic and engaged response from audiences.

Both Gyllenhaal and Salim play off each other perfectly, with Salim’s restrained and stoic emotion a particular highlight.

Unlike most modern day movies, Salim’s Ahmed and Gyllenhaal’s Kinley earn their heroism after suffering and sacrifice in their shared ordeal, and return from their hero’s journey, transformed.

There’s a parallel here with Lord of the Rings’ Samwise and Frodo, as an exhausted Ahmed carries Kinley through mud and fire with enemy hordes seeking their destruction.

Being unconscious for most of the journey, Gyllenhaal goes through his transformation back in the US where, broken and traumatised, he grapples with the guilt of leaving his friend behind and his frustration with a government that wraps its responsibilities in red tape.

“There is a hook in me. One that you cannot see. But it is there,” says Kinley to Colonel Vokes.

“You think if I could be shot of this debt, I wouldn’t be? Do you think if I could just go through the usual channels, I wouldn’t? That is not how this debt works. It demands a result, not an appeasement.”

He too eventually mirrors Salim’s conviction and risks it all to honour his debt and deliver his friend and family safely to the US.

For a filmmaker who’s been dubbed a “British Tarantino,” Ritchie has produced a serious story with well-developed set pieces and a score that builds suspense and keeps the audience invested from beginning to end.

The Covenant is rated MA 15+ for strong violence and is currently streaming on Prime Video.

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