Directed by Ric Roman Waugh.
Starring Gerard Butler, Ali Fazal, Bahador Foladi, Olivia-Mai Barrett, Rebecca Calder, Navid Negahban, Travis Fimmel, Nina Toussaint-White, Tom Rhys Harries, Vassilis Koukalani, Hakeem Jomah, Ray Haratian, Farzad Bagheri, Fahim Fazli, Lee Comley, Corey Johnson, Najia Khaan, and Darius Radac.
A CIA operative and his translator flee from special forces in Afghanistan after exposing a covert mission.
Director Ric Roman Waugh’s Kandahar marks the second time in as many months that a film’s heart comes from a bond between an operative and his field translator (the other is Guy Ritchie’s the Covenant). Unsurprisingly, considering that Kandahar comes from the filmmaker behind Angel Has Fallen and Greenland, once again collaborating with Gerard Butler in the lead role, this version is more action-oriented but not without a thoughtful if sometimes messy emotional buildup attempting to explore the different motives of its various characters, nationalities, and militias.
Gerard Butler plays undercover CIA operative Tom Harris, posing as a construction worker in Iran alongside his field partner Oliver Altman (Tom Rhys Harries), claiming they are doing work to boost Internet signals, but are looking to shut down the country’s nuclear weapons operations remotely. That mission turns out to be an explosive success, taking Tom to another job in Afghanistan that he doesn’t want to take but quickly reconsiders based on the amount of cash thrown at him by his superior (Travis Fimmel). Considering his daughter is about to graduate high school, it’s valuable money, although his family mainly wants him back in one piece for the special event.
Tom is eventually partnered up with Mo (Navid Negahban), a stateside translator returning to Afghanistan for the mission to grieve his dead son and search for the sister he left behind, which provides a strong emotional core to an otherwise familiar narrative (I’ve lost count of how many Gerard Butler movies I have seen, let alone action films, where the hook is as simple as hoping the hero gets back home to his family) inside something more complicated demanding of more complexity.
To the credit of Ric Roman Waugh and screenwriter Mitchell LaFortune, they are trying to populate this story with opposing perspectives and characters (including a motorcycle-riding Pakistani agent played by Ali Fazal ordered to deal with Tom), but much of it comes across as flat and undercooked, often through rushed scenes establishing the bare minimum of characters. This also becomes a bigger issue since roughly the first hour is character-driven, where the only one that stands out is Mo. There is a sense that these filmmakers want to understand and tell a complex story about American relations with these countries and factions, unable to communicate those things in a dramatically involving way that never rises above feeding with one of simply learning about characters rather than feeling their motives.
Kandahar fares better once Ric Roman Waugh shifts into his wheelhouse house, as the nature of Tom’s presence is exposed, meeting that the only option is a race to the particular extraction point. There are vehicular chases across deserts gorgeously captured by cinematographer (MacGregor), including a helicopter battle where the most useful equipment might be night vision goggles. As the film builds to its grand climax, it involves everything from mortars to rocket launchers to airstrikes, maximizing the mayhem.
Ric Roman Waugh certainly knows how to stage bombastic destruction, and it is admirable that he wants to tell a thoughtful story around that, but he also gets lost within too many characters and groups when the compelling dynamic between Tom and his translator Mo provides more than enough riveting drama capable of providing weight to the impending action throughout the back half of Kandahar.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
SEE ALSO: Exclusive Interview – Ric Roman Waugh on Kandahar and working with Gerard Butler
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com