Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, stylized as written, with the director’s name in the title, for reasons unknown, is the kind of movie that feels the needs to define what “covenant” means for its audience. This takes place not in the opening moments, but as a punctuation mark to the whole affair. As if the intended audiences is so unfamiliar with the dictionary that they don’t even understand the definition of a seventh-grade vocab word. And yet would still show up to see a movie called The Covenant. I’m sorry, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant.* This fact becomes even more bewildering the more we dig into what this alleged “action-thriller” is actually about and what its apparent intention is.
The MGM-produced film from the hit-or-miss English director responsible for Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, The Gentlemen, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. introduces U.S. Army Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal, unremarkable here). Kinley runs a special ops team responsible for finding and disposing of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) throughout Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. When a mission to shutter a secreted explosive facility goes off track, Kinley must rely on his hot-blooded Afghan interpreter, played by a scene-stealing Dar Salim, to get him back to safety.
Ritchie all but abandons his usual filmmaking tricks here. His flair for double-crosses, layer cakes of twists, and flashily-edited, slo-mo-soaked combat is stayed by a demand for steady-handiness and Respect for The Dead. Unfortunately, the decision to tone his signature technique down ends up depriving The Covenant of the subversive style of a Ritchie joint. Which only makes the fact that he’s included his name in the title – the first time in his 25 years of filmmaking – even more mystifying. Although Ritchie’s name is plastered all over this disposable, surface-level war-propaganda, one suspects that this is as much a coproduction with the Department of Defense as it is with MGM.
Stories of abandoned Afghan allies flooded the news cycle when the United States crudely pulled their last remaining troops out of the war-torn region in 2021. Over the course of twenty years on the ground, the longest land war in United States history, the U.S. military worked with countless thousands of Afghan interpreters who put their lives on the line in order to aid in the fight against the extremist Taliban. Most were promised visas in exchange for their service. Only some ultimately were granted the immunity needed to save their lives and the lives of their families. Instead of focusing his story on the covenant between a world superpower and the vulnerable allies it swore to protect, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is a Heroic Tale focused on the actions of two Good Loyal Men. Good Loyal Men Who Enlist in the U.S. Army prevail. An endless army of faceless Taliban meet their end at the barrel of a smoking gun. It’s about as Rambo as a movie about a country reneging on its covenant as you can imagine.
Which is in itself somewhat of a bizarre proposition. The overwhelmingly jingoistic, oorah approach certainly doesn’t match up with the critical gaze you might expect from a handful of Brits making a movie about one of America’s most sketchily motivated wars in a history of sketchily motivated wars. There’s very little censuring; this is military complex endorsement through and through. Many films featuring the U.S. military feel like Army commercials because that was the original intention.
A quick google search of the Military-entertainment complex will reveal the rich history of Hollywood and the US Department of Defense being in bed for propaganda purposes. In World War II, Hollywood “became the unofficial propaganda arm of the U.S. military.” This partnership flourished in the years to come, with the goal of rebranding the military, particularly after their disastrous efforts in Vietnam. A shortlist of movie that were conscripted by with DoD include Air Force One, Apollo 13, Armageddon, Batman & Robin, Battleship, Behind Enemy Lines, Black Hawk Down, Captain Phillips, Deep Impact, Godzilla, The Green Berets, I Am Legend, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Jackal, The Karate Kid Part II, King Kong, Midway, Last Action Hero, Red Dawn, The Silence of the Lambs, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Transformers: The Last Knight, True Lies, and Wonder Woman 1984. The list goes on. As does war. With Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, it seems nothing has changed.
CONCLUSION: ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’, a thoughtless flex of American war-tim