In a departure for Ritchie from his usual crime thrillers (RocknRolla, Wrath of Man, The Gentlemen, and his most recent Operation: Fortune) this is a wartime saga set in Afghanistan. Originally titled The Interpreter in 2021, Ritchie altered the title in 2022 after several studios changed hands.
Although not a fact-based movie, it has all the earmarks of one, right down to the real photos at the conclusion. We pick up right after 9/11 in Afghanistan where U.S. troops are everywhere looking for Taliban insurgents and IED’s (improvised explosive devices). Master Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) needs a new interpreter and picks quiet, but respected Ahmed Abdullah (Dar Salim), a former Taliban agent. The deal is, all interpreters get a special Visa and a free trip to America. . . if they live. Ahmed more than proves his mettle in the field as John grows to trust this man with his life. After discovering a cache of IED’s, things go very bad and John & Ahmed are forced on the run from Taliban guerrillas.
Just as everything seems bleak, things get worse. John is badly wounded and Ahmed carries him on a harrowing 100-kilometer mountain trek back to his Army base. Safely back at home in Santa Clarita, Ca., John is faced with a serious bout of PTSD and survivor’s guilt as he learns that Ahmed never made it out! After a month of government red tape in trying to help his friend and savior, John makes the decision to go back, thanks to a bunch of Expendables-like mercenaries, run by a wise-ass named Parker (Antony Starr). Will he find Ahmed and his wife alive? Can John get Ahmed and himself out before the Taliban find them? And why are there so many dogs in Afghanistan?
Directed and co-written by Ritchie, he was joined by his other writing cohorts, Ivan Atkinson & Marn Davies (The Gentlemen, Wrath of Man) for this steadfast and grounded wartime saga that doesn’t rely on crooks, British scams, heists, or comical characters. I’d swear this is about as real as it gets for Ritchie, and after seeing all of his films, this is by far his most personal. In fact, Ritchie based his writings on actual events and experiences that happened during the Afghanistan war and not a direct biography of any one person in particular. As it happens, there is no actual person named John Kinley who fought in Afghanistan. But you really couldn’t tell that by the way he made this movie! This is a great fictionalized-non-fiction, alt-fact-based film.
Gyllenhaal gives an Oscar-worthy performance, especially in the second half, as he painfully struggles to get his friend home. His impassioned and emotional speech to his Army boss is quite moving. Dar Salim is excellent as the Afghani interpreter who just wants to do the right thing. And for her small role, Emily Beechum is wonderful as John’s understanding wife. And don’t expect the usual whiz-bang camera & editing work from Ritchie here either. Yes, you can see some of his signature moves here and there, but otherwise it’s pretty straight-forward and clean, save for a few nightmare sequences. It’s nail-biting, exciting, suspenseful, and has a great deal of heart to it. . . even though this story never happened. Or did it?
**Now showing only in theaters
The Expendables (2010)
You’re Sly Stallone and you’ve created two iconic movie characters/franchises: Rocky & Rambo. So, what do you do next? Why, you invent a whole new movie franchise and invite a whole bunch of your friends to be in it!
They’re called The Expendables, a rag-tag group of for-hire mercenaries that consist of co-team leaders, Barney Ross (Stallone), knives expert Lee Christmas (Jason Stratham), martial arts guy Yin Yang (Jet Li), fighter Toll Road (Randy Couture), demolition man Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and wild card killer, Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). After freeing some hostages in a bloody confrontation (get used to it, there’s a lot of it!), Barney fires Gunner because of his loose-cannon attitude. Naw, that won’t come back to haunt him, will it? Anyway, Barney is approached by CIA agent Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) about doing an off-the-books job, rather than handing it over to his rival, Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The job? Kill General Garza (David Zayas), the new dictator of Vilena, a small seaside country in Mexico. Sure, what could go wrong?
Under the guise of wildlife conservationists, Barney & Lee scope out the place first with the help of their contact there, Sandra (Giselle Itie). After she saves their lives, Barney & Lee barely escape, leaving Sandra behind. What they don’t know is that she’s the daughter of Gen. Garza who’s being manipulated by evil James Munroe (Eric Roberts), an ex-CIA rogue agent who is calling the shots, along with his man-beef henchman, Paine (Steve Austin). Back home, Barney calls off the job and, after talking to his tattoo friend (Mickey Rourke), realizes that he has to go back to save Sandra and make things right. Of course, an assassination attempt by the traitor Gunner sorta cements the deal.
The third act is the major set piece as Barney and his small crew take out Garza’s entire army with knives, bullets, bombs, and hand-to-hand fighting. They’re explosions galore, ghastly deaths via dismemberment, and a ton of bullets. And just like in the Fast ‘n’ Furious movie franchise, expect lapses in logic, physics, and gravity. Written by both David Callahan (Zombieland 2: Double Tap) and Stallone, this is a non-stop, action-adventure that delivers on pure nonsense. The swarms of bad guys are easily defeated by a few of the good guys, and the hero rescues the damsel in the dress. It would be in the two following sequels that Stallone would write in kick-ass female characters as members of his team.
No doubt that Stallone & Statham share a great on-screen bromance, as they constantly trade quips and barbs together. Likewise, the very short scene with Willis and Ahhnold is cool; they would reprise their roles in part two, even using each other’s catch-phases! LOL! Stallone is a fine director and uses his Rocky techniques here to his advantage, as all the action/fighting scenes are well shot. He also gives it all for his filmmaking as he sustained fourteen injuries making this movie, including breaking a tooth, rupturing his ankle, and getting a hairline fracture in his neck that required a metal plate. He also had to endure bronchitis and shingles during the shoot. Now that is dedication!