Hollywood action films set in the Middle East cover a considerable portion of the present action genre. America’s thirst for glory has no bounds, and the way it uses such movies as a tool of hegemony is rather lucid if one is looking for it. Some of you might be wondering where I’m headed with this, but all I’m saying is that in all these movies, America becomes a beacon of hope, valor, sacrifice, and “worth” (pun intended if you remember how Captain America lifted Thor’s hammer in Avengers: Endgame). Anyway, coming back to the topic, here are five movies like Kandahar that you can watch. Although there are many, the list I’ve made is based on the first few names that came to mind that I’ve seen and liked. To make the list shorter, all these movies are based in the Middle East [MENA (Middle East and North Africa) to be more inclusive], which is also where the events of Kandahar take place.
The Covenant (2023)
Based in Afghanistan, The Covenant, directed by Guy Ritchie, upholds the bond between an American soldier and his interpreter, who, after the soldier is heavily wounded, traverses mountains, pulling him along and saving his life. But that’s not the whole story. When the soldier, at home in the U.S., finds out that his savior is in grave danger, he decides to go back to Afghanistan and rescue him. Kandahar resembles The Covenant but fails to deliver. The relationship between Gerard Butler’s Tom Harris and Navid Negahban’s Mo isn’t established, unlike that between Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Kinley and Dar Salim’s Ahmed. The Covenant is a far better watch, as you get an emotional arc that adds to the backdrop of war. So, if you’re wondering which to watch first, go for The Covenant.
12 Strong (2018)
After Red Dawn, Chris Hemsworth’s involvement in the MCU seems to have pulled him away from doing action movies. It was the Russo Brothers who brought him back to the genre with Extraction. But before Extraction, there’s one war movie that might just have made the Russo Brothers consider Chris Hemsworth for his role as Tyler Rake, and that is 2018’s 12 Strong, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig. After the 9/11 attacks, America sent its troop (12 soldiers) to Afghanistan to capture the Taliban-ruled city of Mazar-i-Sharif. But this isn’t going to be an easy feat, as they have to cover the terrain on foot or horseback. Three weeks is all they have before winter arrives, and they freeze to death. 12 Strong is visually stunning, and Nicolai Fuglsig doesn’t hold back on realism. Although it isn’t wrong to find it absurd how 12 guys take on hordes of the enemy, he does his best to make it as compelling as possible. So if it is large-scale action you want, go for 12 Strong without thinking twice.
American Sniper (2014)
2014’s American Sniper is based on the life of revered American Sniper Chris Kyle, who is considered the deadliest sniper in the history of the U.S. Army. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film got multiple Academy Award nominations and won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. The film is more war drama than action, as we see it through the eyes of Chris himself (played by the very talented Bradley Cooper) as he takes down his enemies while struggling to cope with his social life. Sometimes it is the quiet that is more horrifying during a war than the noise. American Sniper is proof of that. There isn’t much action because there is turmoil. The atmosphere of war is as compelling as the war itself and makes the film a great watch, one that requires patience, which I’m sure you will give gladly.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi (2016)
To have a list of war films without incorporating one made by Michael Bay would be an injustice to the list itself. No, we aren’t talking about Pearl Harbor. We are talking about 13 Hours here. Personally speaking, I loved each and every moment of the film. Bay’s signature style, which many often refer to as Bayhem, which includes his love for practical effects, makes 13 Hours a visually palpable watch. It shows how a group of six men, all former U.S. soldiers, defend the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, from countless Islamic combatants and try to save the lives of the Americans stuck inside the consulate building. As cliché as the plot sounds, the film is one of the most tense and fun experiences I’ve had watching an action thriller. The film proves how important the process of execution of a plot really is and re-establishes Bay’s nature as a people’s director, someone who makes films for the audience’s entertainment while being organic in his approach.
Honorable Mention: Black Hawk Down (2001)
There are high chances that you have seen the film, but for the uninitiated, Black Hawk Down is a must if you are into war movies. Although based on the Battle of Mogadishu (in Somalia, which is not considered the Middle East) of 1993, we have a group of U.S. soldiers who must defend themselves against Somalian forces who bring down two of the US Black Hawk helicopters. America sent the men to destabilize the dictatorial government of Somalia and provide U.N. aid to the population. A stellar cast that would go on to become even more stellar, accompanied by Ridley Scott’s mastery of direction, made the film a cult classic among cinephiles. Multiple storylines, stunning visuals, and a convincing portrayal of firefights keep you engaged at all times. I will stop going on about it and request that you see it if you haven’t, and for those who have, watch it again just like I am going to. So you see, that’s how impactful the movie is; just talking about it makes you want to watch it.
In my humble opinion, it hurts to say that Kandahar failed to hit the spot. When it’s Gerard Butler on screen, I expect him to fight till the end with all his might and then come out victorious. You can call this my taken-for-granted attitude towards him or my frenzy for him, or you can address it as an outcome of how Hollywood uses him in such films (which, by the way, is also a part of its hegemonistic attitude). But you cannot deny how attractive he looks doing it. This is not just his charisma but also his ability to become the character. Kandahar not only fails to use Butler’s talent as an actor effectively but also fails to use his image. This is disheartening. But then again, if you are a fan like me, you will watch Kandahar if you haven’t already because it is always good to see Gerard Butler. But this time, it is only him who is worth watching.