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  • Dane Bundy

Sacrifice Moves the Soul: A Review of Guy Ritchie's The Covenant




A couple weekends ago my Dad and I rented Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (2023). While some war films are shallow and gratuitous, this film was the opposite.

The movie takes place during the Afghanistan war and follows an IED unit led by Master Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film revolves around the friendship between John Kinley’s new Afghan interpreter, Ahmed (Dar Salim).

Attempting to locate the Taliban’s ammunition supply, Kinley and his team encounter a skirmish that leaves John Kinley wounded and the rest of his team dead, except for Ahmed. In a beautiful turn, Ahmed transports Kinley across the vast wilderness, risking his life for his Sergeant’s life.

Friends, this is a two-hour long war film that left me satisfied and excited to share it with you. I’ll unpack the film using a three-pronged approach to evaluating stories by looking at the film’s content, quality, and craft. While I don't spoil the whole plot, I do spoil some of it!


CRAFT


Key question: What is the quality of the film, ranging from the acting, the writing, or the direction?

Overall, Guy Ritchie has made a beautiful film. The direction, cinematography, and editing delivers a fast-paced drama that is character-centric. As mentioned earlier, it’s all about the bond of friendship. The plot is simple and serves to highlight the integrity of both men.

The acting is solid, especially from Dar Salim. And while Jake Gyllenhaal is a phenomenal actor, I connected less with his character in this film than in others. At times he came across as flat. Perhaps that was what he was going for? I still enjoyed watching him on the screen, though.

Finally, some war or action films incorporate the shaky camera technique (think Bourne Identity). This one does not, or at least not predominantly. All I can say . . . thank you for that, Guy Ritchie! I could focus on the characters without feeling sick.


CONTENT


Key question: What worldview or philosophical ideas do we find in the story? Is there objectionable content in this film?

The most compelling part of the film was how the men sacrificed their lives for one another. It was impossible for me to not think about the Christian worldview while watching this film.

Leland Ryken, one of my favorite thinkers about Christianity and the arts, speaks of a few ways that stories engage with the Christian worldview.

An inclusive way is when a story highlights ideas or images found in Christianity. They’re not exclusive to Christianity but overlap with other philosophies or worldviews. For example, a story might highlight the importance of marriage or the moral code written on our hearts. Non-Christian philosophies and worldviews can do this because of the doctrine of common grace!

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant engages the Christian worldview by painting John 15:13 for us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” It’s what many great war films do. While I don't believe Guy Ritchie is a Christian, at the core of this story is a modern day parable that overlaps easily with the Christian call to love one another, even when they are different from us.

The film also impressed me with how it approached the politics of the Afghanistan war. It could have slammed those behind the war in Afghanistan or the way we withdrew from the country, but Guy Ritchie remains relatively neutral, choosing to focus on the bravery of the men as well as their wives. He lets us consider for ourselves the upsides and downsides of withdrawing when we did.

With all this said, violence and language have a place in the film, warranting its R-rating, and is not appropriate for kids. The violence seemed to match the context, and it wasn't gratuitous. For additional insights on this part of the film's content, see Focus on the Family's review.


IMPACT


How did this film affect you emotionally or intellectually? What does it remind you of or stir within you?

This final category is more subjective than craft or content, as it’s based on our opinion, or how we received the film. And it may be the most enjoyable part of reviewing a film for me.

So here we go: as you may have guessed, the film gripped me. After it ended, my father and I joined our wives for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and one of the first things we did was share the story with them. We spoiled all the twists and turns.

At the end of the film, the term covenant is defined as a bond, a pledge, a commitment. And again, it points us back to the Christian Story. As early as Genesis 3, we read that God has committed himself to rescuing and redeeming his creation.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant echoes the gospel, reminding us of the climax of human history: God sacrificed his Son for his people.

But where the film and the gospel differ is found in Romans:

“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:7-8).

In the film, we see friends willing to die for one another.

In the gospel, we encounter a God who died for his enemies.

That would be like these soldiers dying for the Taliban.

I compare these two not to diminish the worth of this film or the sacrifices of American soldiers, but to magnify the beauty of the gospel and the glory of Jesus. May this film point you to the beauty of our Savior.


 


Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a K-12 classical Christian school in Austin, Texas.

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