Technically, Guy Ritchie’s new film is called Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant.
Perhaps this is to distinguish it from other films with that title, which frankly sounds like a religious thriller but in this case is a tightly constructed action flick set in a world of modern warfare.
It’s a tale told time and time again in many conflicts. A warrior goes back into the zone to rescue a fellow warrior.
Ritchie’s take on the modern soldier is certainly direct and linear, as opposed to say something like American Sniper.
The Covenant easily slices into three distinct parts. The first depicts troops, with Sgt. Jake Gyllenhaal front and center, stationed in Afghanistan and searching for factories making explosives.
The Taliban are the villains and instead of swastikas they wear comfortable desert clothing, use cell phones to coordinate, and drink gunpowder green tea. The soldiers are bogged down with pounds of weapons and vests.
The second part deals with troop interpreter Dar Salim rescuing Gyllenhaal and dragging his wounded commanding officer over 100 miles through enemy territory, back to base. This is actually the meat and potatoes of Ritchie’s tale; it shows valor in the face of constant danger and is rich in cinematic detail.
The third part has Sgt. Gyllenhaal hiring mercenaries, who work in tandem with the military, to rescue Salim who now is the enemy #1 on the Taliban’s hit list. The calvary coming in for the rescue at the last minute has rarely been so effective.
Like the narrative itself, the film can be divided into three interpretations.
One, it’s an old fashioned war story delineated with good guys and bad guys. Secondly, it’s a prime example of American agitprop with the lead characters given full character development while the Taliban are sketchy figures. Thirdly, despite incredible fire power and gung-ho attitude it’s an anti war story with Salim, an opium smuggler who joins the occupying force after the Taliban killed his son, denied the promise of an American visa after his service.
Ritchie himself excels at mob and crime inspired dramedies like Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or his most recent Operation Fortune. My personal favorite Ritchie films are Rocknrolla and his reboot of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Ritchie’s crime thrillers are infused with rich characterization on both sides of the conflict.
To infer, as the possessive title does, that Ritchie is an auteur who easily crosses genres can be just as effortlessly flipped when you consider that some of the films he’s directed – like Aladdin and Guy Richie’s The Covenant – though professionally delivered, lack the punch of his crime and spy films.