Guy Ritchie is known for movies like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, black comedy movies that don’t shy away from showing death but manage to keep it light throughout. His 2023 movie, The Covenant, about the US Army’s occupation of Afghanistan before their exit in 2021 is on a different level, however. The movie is grim and shows the gritty reality of the once-beautiful nation, which is now a hub of terrorism operated by the Taliban. In such a nation, US Army sergeant John Kinley forms a bond with an Afghan interpreter, Ahmed Abdullah, and the movie shows how each man saves the other from death, paying each other’s debt. Today we look at John Kinley and his determination to save the life of the man who dragged him out of death’s door, Ahmed Abdullah.
It’s not easy overseeing a group of soldiers in a Taliban-infested place under the constant threat of death. It’s even harder when your newest interpreter repeatedly undermines your authority, be it by negotiating with Afghans with Taliban connections or beating up a soldier in front of you. John Kinley was in a tough spot when the newest interpreter, known to be a headstrong fellow, refused to fall in like the rest of his crew. With a family waiting for him back home and the soldiers under his wing, each day out in the open was a brush with death for Kinley, but he decided to trust the interpreter for once. Ahmed Abdullah, the interpreter’s insight, saved Kinley’s crew from an ambush, and he later found out that Ahmed was possessed of an immense hatred for the Taliban—the monsters had killed his son.
When a search-and-destroy mission at an IED base goes horribly wrong, Ahmed and Kinley are the only survivors. Slowly but surely, Kinley realizes Ahmed is as determined to kill the militants as he is and equally ready to go through immense hardships to return to their base. However, this two-man party comes under attack, and Kinley is shot twice by a small party of Talibans and hit in the head with a rifle butt, sending him into a daze. Kinley finds himself in a hospital in California four weeks later and in his home after three weeks more. Kinley is safe, but his heart is heavy with worry because Ahmed, who went through hell to get Kinley back to his people, is now in hiding with his wife and newborn son, with a massive price on his head.
Kinley jolts up from sleep at night as visions of Ahmed nursing him with the bare minimum supplies he could scrounge in the rocky mountains of Afghanistan return to him. The weight of the debt hangs heavy on his shoulders, and Kinley begins an attempt to get Ahmed and his family out of the hole that the US Army got them into. On one of the nights, Kinley tells his wife that he’s cursed because the debt needs to be repaid, and until Ahmed and his family experience freedom, each breath Kinley draws will feel borrowed. However, 35 days later, Kinley finds himself screaming at the Visa officials for putting his call on hold for the umpteenth time and making him wait because the US Visa service couldn’t care less about an Afghan interpreter. He screams at the man on the phone, threatens to murder him, and throws the phone at a mirror, shattering it. Kinley can’t close his eyes; he can’t find a moment’s relief from the haunting thought that the man who saved his life is battling death on a daily basis.
Thus, the sergeant decides to act, and John Kinley agrees to return to Afghanistan in person to get Ahmed and his family out with the help of a contractor named Parker. The financial toll of this is immense, but Kinley finds his wife standing beside him like a rock, agreeing to mortgage their home so that her husband can settle the score. When he goes to the military base, Kinley reminds Colonel Vokes in no uncertain words that he needs to organize the visas for the interpreter and his family. Kinley arrives in Afghanistan and meets Parker, but the contractor is held up with something and needs Kinley to wait 72 hours. The man has waited several months, so every second not spent extracting Ahmed feels like a waste for Kinley, and he can’t tolerate this feeling of living on borrowed time. Parker assures the sergeant that the contractor will extract Ahmed and his family once Kinley locates the man. Thus, Kinley sets out through the roads of Afghanistan, where the Taliban presence is in every other town and death is breathing down his neck 24/7. Such is his commitment to paying his debts that Kinley is willing to stare down death if it means he can save the man for whom he’s alive today.
Of course, Kinley isn’t an emotional fool running headlong into trouble, and his 12 years of military service come to use when the truck he’s being transported in is apprehended by two Talibans. Thinking on his feet, he blows out the brains of the two, but their trail is picked up by a tracker, who follows Kinley’s truck to the safehouse of Ahmed. He finally sees the interpreter, who’d gone through extremes to save Kinley’s life and gets them into the truck to get them out. However, trouble follows, and jeeps upon jeeps loaded with militants start pouring in to get the biggest targets of the Taliban. When all hope seems lost as the Taliban close in on the small building where Kinley, Ahmed, and his family were hiding after abandoning the truck, Parker comes through. But for a moment, before help arrived like Deus Ex-Machina, Kinley stared into nothingness with his eyes blank, not because death was certain, but because he couldn’t pay his dues and his savior’s family would be destroyed. However, their luck takes a better turn, and they’re rescued, but the interesting thing is, neither man speaks a word to the other when they’re being airlifted out of Afghanistan. Instead, Ahmed nods at Kinley, who returns the nod, and that’s how the sergeant knows that his debt is paid. It doesn’t take elaborate and eloquent sentences to express gratitude. Kinley did what the US government would’ve never done: he saved Ahmed and his family from certain death and helped them move to the US. Kinley shall sleep easy from now on, knowing his debt has been paid.