By Victoria Alexander
Ritchie did not have to put his name in the title of the strongest, most impressive film of his career. It’s a defining showcase that liberates him from his genre. It is Gyllenhaal’s most assured role. A highly realistic war film.
GUY RITCHIE’S THE COVENANT is a fictionalized version of a very serious problem, one that continues to fester and degrade America’s international credibility. The impact of the action sequences do not surmount the underlining message that the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Afghans who worked in tandem as aides to the U.S. forces in Afghanistan would protect them, if the Taliban came to power. The Taliban’s takeover of the country became inevitable long before the announced withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
In 2003 my husband spent several months in Kabul, Afghanistan as “Mentor to the Ministry of Defense.” Bariall was assigned John’s translator.
Master Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a battle-hardened special operations leader with several years of experience fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was not uncommon for such soldiers to have endured ten or more foreign tours, and having spent two or three times the amount in actual combat, than any American did during World War II. Kinley’s newly assigned interpreter, Ahmed (Dar Salim), a mechanic by trade, goes with Kinley and his men hunting Taliban factories manufacturing IEDs. Instead of merely translating, Ahmed uses his knowledge of the people to maneuver a tense situation they encounter. Kinley reprimands Ahmed and affirms who is in charge - Ahmed is only with them to translate.
An ambush occurs in which Kinley and Ahmed get separated from the rest of the unit. Kinley is seriously wounded, to the point of incapacitation. He can not walk. The Taliban know these two are isolated and set many of their forces to hunt them down. They are also aware one is a native interpreter thus engendering their hatred. The loathing is reciprocal because Ahmed is driven by revenge as the Taliban killed his son.
At great personal risk, harrowing conditions and several close calls with the Taliban’s men, Ahmed is able reach the American base with a severely wounded Kinley. Though not specifically stated, Ahmed seems to employ Pashtunwali, a code of ethics in which clans can go to great lengths to secure a person under their protection. The film accurately portrays the differing feelings many people have for the Taliban. On one hand they are pragmatic and fearful of reprisals. Alternatively, they hate the harsh conditions imposed by Taliban rule. This is the sentiment that continues today.
Kinley makes a miraculous recovery and returns to his home and family in California. There he learns that Ahmed is in hiding and has not received the visas the U.S. promised for him and his family. The Special Immigrant Visa program was established for these cases. Kinley told Ahmed he would make sure the visas were assigned. Kinsey is frustrated with the long delays and inadequacy of the administration of the program by the U.S. State Department. Months go by without any resolution and Kinley is riddled with guilt: Ahmed saved his life and now he needs help.
It is not clear if Kinley is still on active duty or a retired civilian. Through persistent will and determination, Kinley obtains the visas for Ahmed and his family. His wife agrees and they mortgage their house. Kinley decides to return to Afghanistan. Once there, he obtains assistance from a high level contractor (who escorts political dignitaries around) for a great deal of cash and facilitates Kinley’s entry into a hotly contested area. Ahmed and his family are in hiding and must move often and quickly. Somehow Kinley arranges for helicopters and secures the services of a Spectre AC-130 gunship. As the Taliban closes in on Ahmed, Kinley snatches him and his family and the chase is on.
Spectre is an awesome aircraft, equipped with amazing sensors and incredible firepower. Just as Kinley and Ahmed run out of ammunition in a fire-fight, Spectre appears and decimates the pursuers. During the final stages of the American forces leaving Afghanistan, special operators were able to carefully locate and direct their Afghan colleagues to safety. Not all made it.
THE COVENANT’s theme is about an unspoken covenant forged between brothers-in-arms, bonded by life-threatening events. Unfortunately, that covenant has been broken by ineptitude on a monumental scale in Afghanistan. The film ends with a note about the number of interpreters, who came to our aid, believed we were trustworthy, and yet have been tracked down and killed the Taliban. That number is placed at over 300. Many are still in hiding – waiting.
THE COVENANT is an important war film and Ritchie’s depth of research and skill are admirable. And Hugh Grant is not in the film.
The ALL is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”
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