Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant Blu-ray Review: A Solid yet Standard War Flick

Guy Ritchie’s wheelhouse has primarily been in the crime comedy genre with films like Snatch; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; and The Gentlemen. When Ritchie has a hit, it comes with intelligent dialogue, silly and lovable characters, and well-crafted direction. But Ritchie has also branched off into other genres as well, especially in more blockbuster fare, and the results have been a mixed bag. His Sherlock Holmes films may have strong performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but also come off as too frenetic and haphazardly edited. The latter critique can be said for other films such as Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Your mileage may vary on Ritchie’s filmography, as there are several who appreciate his blockbuster efforts in addition to his crime comedies. But it’s always interesting to see what he has up his sleeve. His latest film has his name attached to it, maybe to distinguish it from other films that have the same title. There’s only one other that comes to mind, and it was a 2006 vampire film (pre-Twilight) that starred Sebastian Stan.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is the director’s first attempt at a war film. Some of his trademarks are still present, such as the humorous banter between men, but it also feels like he scaled back a lot of what makes him unique. Even the back and forth feels a bit standard here at times. But his scaling back is, in a way, also beneficial to making The Covenant an acceptable war film, even if it doesn’t break new ground.

The film starts off in 2018, but, as we later find out, is not based on a singular true story. It culls from multiple stories and sources to bring us the film we are watching. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent here as U.S. Army Sergeant John Kinley, who is an amalgamation of many real-life people. The other characters in the film are also amalgamations and not based on anyone in particular. Kinley runs a team that specializes in finding and disposing of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that are placed throughout Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. After a mission goes awry, Kinley must rely on his interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim) to get him back to safety. A few years pass, and Kinley finds out that Ahmed and his family were not granted the promise of relocation to America. Kinley then makes it his mission to bring Ahmed and his family to the States, no matter what the cost may be.

Some of Ritchie’s unnecessary flashiness comes into play when military jargon gets tossed around. As certain acronyms or labels are spouted from the characters’ mouths, Ritchie has a text that pops up which defines or breaks down the meaning. It’s as if Ritchie thinks the audience for this movie is not already familiar with the terminology when there have been many years of military films – and the last nearly 20 years have had films set during the most recent war. It happens on three separate occasions throughout the film, and all three times are for terms that are so common not just in the military but also in the war film genre.

This is why Ritchie is one of the most fascinating and sometimes frustrating directors working today. When he hits the mark, his films can be great. When he derails, it can be a big derailment. With The Covenant, it’s almost in the middle.

The action scenes, captured by Ed Wild, are well-filmed and contain some intense moments. Ritchie’s fast-paced editing and quick takes, which ruined his King Arthur film, are not quite as present here and for the better. It comes off as clean and easy to watch.

Gyllenhaal is solid in his role, but it’s really Salim who steals the show as Ahmed. He’s calm in the heat of battle but can also throw in a few witty remarks at the right moment. Salim owns the role and helps elevate the film.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is your average war film with Ritchie’s name attached to its title. At times, it comes off as workmanlike, but there are also moments where you can see some of Ritchie’s signature on it. Make of that what you will. And while there have been better war films in recent years, especially with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and the highly overlooked The Outpost, The Covenant is still proof that Ritchie is slowly becoming a more versatile filmmaker. Even if the results aren’t as great as what he’s best known for, there’s still something worth seeking out here.

The Blu-ray release for Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant comes presented in 1080p High Definition and has a Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio track for sound. The picture quality is superb on the television screen and the sound quality perfectly captures all the sounds of the battle scenes. Unfortunately, there are no special features with this release, not even the standard, less-than-five-minute interviews or behind-the-scenes featurettes.

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David Wangberg

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