Gerard Butler stars in the above average action flick, Kandahar, from director Ric Roman Waugh.
PLOT: A CIA contractor (Gerard Butler) who just sabotaged an Iranian Nuclear Power Plant finds his cover blown by a whistleblower journalist. On the run, he finds himself being hunted, along with his Afghan interpreter (Navid Negahban), through hostile territory by Iranian Intelligence, the Taliban and Pakistan intelligence.
REVIEW: Many will compare Ric Roman Waugh’s Kandahar with Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. After all, both are about Americans being hunted in Afghanistan along with their interpreters, but if you ignore how similar the premises may be, they’re actually quite different. Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant was a (very good) war film, while Kandahar is more of a straightforward action flick. It’s a very tight little thriller offering further evidence that Gerard Butler makes the best mid-level action movies in the business, especially when he works with Ric Roman Waugh, arguably his best director.
In Kandahar, Butler plays a familiar role – the burnt-out, aging operative who wants to get home to his family. It’s a role that fits him like a glove, and unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Butler embraces the fact that he’s getting older with his Tom Harris, another vulnerable hero. Kandahar has a lot more in common with something like Green Zone or The Kingdom than recent Butler actioners in that it digs more into the geopolitical side of things, with Harris a contractor working out of the city of Herat, which shares a border with Iran. He works for a shady operator (Travis Fimmel) who convinces him to take a job keeping him in the city with a new translator, Mo (Navid Negahban), only to find that they’re both hunted men once their covers are blown.
Kandahar runs a lean two hours and has a propulsive pace but is more character-driven than Butler/Waugh’s previous Angel Has Fallen. It’s more of an ensemble piece, with no one reduced to two-dimensional stereotypes. Negahban’s Mo is shown to be a landed immigrant in the U.S. who’s back in Afghanistan to try to find his missing sister-in-law, a teacher he fears has met a grim fate. Butler’s pursuers are also given more dimension, with Bahador Foladi as an Iranian intelligence officer who just wants to get home to his wife. Meanwhile, Ali Fazal plays the main physical threat, a Pakistan Intelligence officer whose skills rival Butler’s, but even he is presented as a man aching to live in a more modern society, fetishizing Western pop culture through his constant vaping while using Tinder and listening to rap music. There’s a great moment where he meets a child soldier in Afghanistan and encourages the kid to think for himself rather than be in a rush to die for a cause. Even Travis Fimmel, as Butler’s handler, is given a heroic twist. In other movies, he would be seen as a “suit” willing to disavow his man, but here he’s shown making alliances himself to come to Tom and Mo’s aid.
This makes Kandahar (or, as it’s titled in Canada – Mission Kandahar) weightier than one might assume. Like the rest of Waugh’s movies, the action is done practically, with real explosions and a lack of CGI. All of the action is well done, although a nighttime raid with night vision goggles goes on a shade too long, with the action purposely tough to decipher.
Sadly, the fate of movies such as Kandahar is to be all but ignored theatrically, a fate that befell the director’s amazing Shot Caller and his better-than-expected National Champions. Hopefully, like Shot Caller, this will develop a following on streaming. It’s not as easily digestible as Plane, which embraced its B-movie trappings, but it’s a slick, solid thriller with another good Butler performance in the lead. He’s becoming our most reliable action hero, as these movies he regularly churns out are usually at least decent. This is one of his better outings.