Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for The Covenant

The Big Picture

  • The events in the movie The Covenant are not based on a true story, but they could have happened in a similar way.
  • The performances of the cast and the direction by Guy Ritchie make the story feel real and convincing.
  • The director drew inspiration from various stories of the American occupation in Afghanistan to create the film’s narrative and explore the bond between different cultures.

Guy Ritchie‘s The Covenant tells the emotional story of the relationship between a United States soldier and an Afghan interpreter who become unlikely allies, and, over the course of the film, are inexorably tied by the horrors of the conflict in the Middle East. The movie is set in 2018, just a few years before the American withdrawal from Afghanistan that saw the Taliban take control of the country and establish a new, iron-fisted regime. The main protagonist is Master Sergeant John Kinley, who is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and the part of the brave Afghan translator named Ahmed Abdullah is deftly taken on by Dar Salim. The story is told in two separate acts and the subject along with the real-life timeline and statistics delivered in both the prologue and epilogue makes The Covenant feel like it could definitely be based on a true story. The performances of its leads and their character arcs, plus the savvy direction of Guy Ritchie, really make you want to believe that these events happened as they are recalled in the movie. But did they?

The Covenant Poster

The Covenant

Release Date
April 21, 2023

Guy Ritchie

Jake Gyllenhaal, Antony Starr, Alexander Ludwig, Jonny Lee Miller

Main Genre

Crime, Thriller

Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Covenant’ Is One of the Director’s Best

After digging around, there is no evidence to suggest that the events in The Covenant are based on a true story or the lives of Master Sgt. John Kinley and Ahmed Abdullah. The story, which tellls of an Afghan translator who earns the trust of his American unit and ends up saving Kinley’s life only to see Kinley fly back to Afghanistan and get him and his wife out of the Taliban-ruled country, is not based on any real-life account. That’s not to say that something similar to these events may not have happened. In fact, something similar probably did occur. It’s just that this particular account appears to be fictionalized. It’s a great bit of storytelling by Ritchie, who broke away from his signature British mob movie niche to tell an incredible story of humans tied together through courage and valor. And it’s easily the filmmaker’s best film in years.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim Were Perfectly Cast

Ritchie took his time finding the right performers to convince us that his film might be based on a true story, telling Entertainment Weekly, “It was a painful process of trying to find the appropriate actors that, A, understand the work and, B, are up for that work.” He added, “That’s just a painful process of cherry-picking those who understand the essence of the vision.” The challenging deserts of Afghanistan are cleverly disguised by Ritchie’s use of the Spanish countryside. Ritchie also noted that despite the rigorous casting process and rough terrain, it was a nice break from the gritty mob movies he’s so well known for as he was asked if the shoot was difficult, “Au contraire. It was incredibly pleasant,” he said, “We had a lovely time. We were in Spain. I like Spanish food and I like Spanish wine,” he continues. “Jake’s a wonderful chap. Dar’s a wonderful chap. We had a lovely time!” So despite the very bleak nature of the film and the overall tone of the subject on which it is based, the mood on-set couldn’t have been cheerier.

What Sources Did Guy Ritchie Pull From for ‘The Covenant’?

Guy Ritchie directing Jake Gyllenhaal on set of the Covenant
Image via MGM

According to the acclaimed director, he took bits and pieces of stories he had heard about the over 20-year American occupation of Afghanistan to create the story of Kinley and Ahmed, saying The Covenant is, “an amalgam of different stories from Afghanistan and Iraq, both English and American.” He also commented on what he liked about the story and the two different cultures colliding: “What I was struck by was the warmth, the sense of brotherhood between the disparate cultures. It felt like the correct thing to do would be to honor the tacit or explicit contract.” In an interview with Time on the film, he expanded on what he liked about the human story. “What I liked about [The Covenant] is that you didn’t need to understand all the machinations of the political geography, you just needed to understand that one fella was profoundly motivated to service a debt that the other had bestowed upon him.”

If you’ve seen the film, he is absolutely spot on in his references to honoring a “contract” or promise, hence the title, The Covenant. The beauty of the film is the bond between two men who are not just American and Afghan, but human beings who both go above and beyond to save each other’s lives. So even though there is no Sergeant Major John Kinley or an Afghan interpreter/translator named Ahmed Abdullah who saves each other’s lives, the story that is told has all the elements of real human emotions and the things that inspire us as an audience and was worthy of checking out for ourselves.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is available to stream on Prime Video.

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