The True Story Behind Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, Explained (2024)


  • The Covenant by Guy Ritchie highlights the sacrifices of Afghan interpreters and sheds light on a real-life issue.
  • The movie emphasizes the betrayal faced by interpreters who were promised visas for helping the U.S. military.
  • Through a gripping narrative, Ritchie showcases the bond formed between soldiers and interpreters in times of war.

Released to critical acclaim on April 21, 2023, Guy Ritchie'sThe Covenant is loosely based on the collective exploitation of many Middle Eastern interpreters working with the U.S. Armed Forces during the War in Afghanistan. Rather than adapting one soldier's personal experience, the movie explores the sacrifices and consequences made by many unnamed interpreters who risked their lives for the promise of a better future.

To make its salient point and raise awareness of the real-life issue that persists today, the story follows John Kinley (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a U.S. Green Beret serving in the War in Afghanistan in 2018. When Kinley is injured in battle, the real hero is Ahmed (Dar Salim), an Afghan interpreter hired by the U.S. Military who carries Kinley to safety. Promised international visas for his family in exchange for his life-threatening sacrifices, Ahmed is betrayed by the U.S. Government and driven underground. While the story may not be based on one person's precise experience, Guy Ritchie's The Covenant uses a real-life issue to make a profound statement about human generosity.

What Is Guy Ritchie's The Covenant?

The True Story Behind Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, Explained (1)
Guy Ritchie's The Covenant


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Release Date
April 21, 2023
Guy Ritchie
Jake Gyllenhaal , Alexander Ludwig , Antony Starr , Jonny Lee Miller , Dar Salim , Emily Beecham

2hr 3min
Main Genre
Ivan Atkinson , Marn Davies , Guy Ritchie

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Guy Ritchie's The Covenant is not based on any preexisting source material. Instead, the original screenplay was co-written with Ritchie by Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, collaborators who previously worked with Ritchie on such movies as The Gentleman, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, and Wrath of Man. While their previous films are not rooted in historical accuracy, The Covenant is inspired by a persistent problem in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries.

The problem involves Afghan interpreters hired by the U.S. Government to assist American soldiers with the language barrier in the region. For betraying their own country and risking their lives, the U.S. Government promises to grant the interpreters visas to relocate to the United States safely. More often than not, this deal has been reneged on by the U.S., leaving many Afghan interpreters in danger as their fate hangs in the balance. This collective experience of such brave interpreters is the basis of Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, with Ahmed's story serving as an allegory for many people in a similar situation.

In the movie, U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sergeant John Kinley (Gyllenhaal) and his squad are ambushed by a car bomb by the Taliban, resulting in the death of Kinley's interpreter. An Afghan local named Ahmed Abdullah (Salim) agrees to replace Kinley's interpreter, although he claims it's only for money rather than compassion. Kinley also learns that Ahmed is a former member of the Taliban army but betrayed them when they killed his son. As Kinley and Ahmed earn each other's trust, everything changes when Kinley is gravely injured in another Taliban attack.

When Kinley awakes from his injuries, he realizes he's back in the U.S. and has lost all contact with Ahmed. Desperate to repay the favor of saving his life and transporting him to safety, Kinley attempts to grant Ahmed and his family international visas that will give them safe entry into the U.S. Alas, the U.S. government resists for one month, prompting Ahmed and his family to hide underground and Kinley to return to Afghanistan under the alias Ron Kay to find him. Before returning to the Middle East, Kinley asks his commanding officer, Colonel Vokes (Johnny Lee Miller), to secure visas for Ahmed's family.

Once Kinley finds Ahmed in Afghanistan, he convinces him and his family to join him en route to the U.S. Vokes informs Kinley that the visas have been processed and arranges an air attack to thwart a Taliban ambush. After protecting each other in an intense standoff, Kinley, Ahmed, and Ahmed's wife and child are flown out of Afghanistan and taken back to the United States. Although things ended somewhat happily for Ahmed, the movie ends with a sobering text epilogue reading:

"More than 300 interpreters and their families have been murdered by the Taliban for collaborating with the U.S. military. Thousands more are still in hiding."

In the guise of a militaristic action movie, Guy Ritchie'sThe Covenant tells a semi-true war story about a real-life issue that persists in the Middle East today. Although Ahmed and his family were fortunate to survive in the movie, many real-life interpreters in the War in Afghanistan were not. The movie attempts to raise awareness about this issue and give the interpreters their just due.


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Historical Precedent Inspired Guy Ritchie's The Covenant

Although Guy Ritchie'sThe Covenant is not based on one person's true story, it is inspired by historical precedent. In 2016, two years before the events depicted in the movie, The Smithsonian ran a haunting piece entitled, The Haunting Fate of the Afghan Interpreters the U.S. Left Behind. The article describes the experiences of many Afghan interpreters like Ahmed Abdullah, many of whom betrayed their country to work with the U.S. Government in exchange for visas. Yet, despite their heroic efforts, many of the Afghan interpreters were left behind, forgotten about, and outright denied visas by the U.S.


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The article profiles several Afghan interpreters who gave up everything to escape to America to live a better life, only to be denied a visa and in some cases killed. While many of these personal trials are too tragic and painful to relive in print, the article gives the haunting statistic:

"In 2014, the International Refugee Assistance Project, a nonprofit based in New York City, estimated that an Afghan interpreter was being killed every 36 hours."

Although this is a much darker and more complex issue than depicted in Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, the movie takes the true story of the long-forgotten yet profoundly heroic Afghan interpreters and attempts to raise awareness through human compassion and generosity.

Guy Ritchie's Take on The Covenant

The True Story Behind Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, Explained (9)

While Guy Ritchie's The Covenant is based on the real-life experiences of many unsung Afghan interpreters, the director insists that telling the fictional story of John Kinley and Ahmed Abdullah is about the human bond formed between two unlikely people. Ritchie tells The AP:

“I was moved by the rather complicated and paradoxical bonds that seemed to be fused by the trauma of war between the interpreters and their colleagues, so to speak, on the other side of the cultural divide and how all of that evaporated under duress. The irony of war is the depths to which the human spirit is allowed to express itself that in any other sort of day-to-day situation is never allowed. It’s very hard to articulate the significance and that profundity of those bonds. My job was to try and capture that spirit within a film and within a very simple narrative.”

In following a simple narrative, Guy Ritchie's The Covenant has tackled and exposed a true story that continues to plague U.S.-affiliated interpreters in the aftermath of the War in Afghanistan. The underrated war movie tells John and Ahmed's personal story to raise much-needed awareness about the real-life exploitation that persists in the Middle East today.

The True Story Behind Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, Explained (2024)
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