Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is of course directed by Guy Ritchie, and it stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim as well as Antony Starr and Jonny Lee Miller in supporting roles. Gyllenhaal plays a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who is critically injured in an ambush by the Taliban, and his interpreter carries him across about 100 kilometers of hostile, mountainous territory.

Even the story summary is compelling; it is a good war story well-told with Guy Ritchie’s direction. Additionally, The Covenant features great performances by Gyllenhaal and Salim, and the filmmaking makes the audience feel every step of their long journey. In the second half of the film, when the conflict turns to a different antagonist, labyrinthine bureaucracy is depicted with the same ardor as Afghanistan’s terrain.

As with other modern war films like last year’s All Quiet on the Western Front and 1917 (2019), there is a question in film criticism about whether one can make an anti-war movie. Do the genre conventions of an action film inherently make any war movie exciting? Making war seem fun or invigorating would bely any anti-war point the text is attempting to articulate. In this regard, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is almost entirely an action movie

Not only is The Covenant not an anti-war film, I would argue that this is an idealized version of the US involvement in Afghanistan and by extension an idealized version of the US military.  While the film mentions criticism about how the US has treated Afghan interpreters, the film’s heroes are individualistic, brave, and selfless duty-bound promise-keepers. In this way, the film is stripped as any kind of social or political critical insight, and in an effort to remain non-political, it ends up making a profoundly political statement.

That may be a good thing for some audiences, and it may be a bad thing for others; regardless, it is something to know before going in.

Additionally, there’s a lot of faceless violence. In order to strip away the humanity of the film’s prodigious body count, Ritchie depicts the dead as a faceless, impersonal, screaming horde, similar to many other action movies.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is recommendable only in a vacuum. Devoid the social, political, and humanitarian context and only on the surface, it is a good war story well-told. But it falls apart when subjected to any kind of critical scrutiny.