Modern war has become increasingly grey with blurred lines and ever shifting alliances that sometimes change as often as the wind blows. As much as humans want to see things as good and bad, it is almost never clear. Kandahar might just have the best representation of this murky, real world that has ever been put to film.
Gerard Butler (Den of Thieves) stars as a CIA operative whose cover is blown while behind enemy lines. Against the odds, he must get both his interpreter and him out of a Middle Eastern warzone as multiple regimes descend on them, each wanting the prize of catching “the spy” and “the traitor.”
Ric Roman Waugh teams up with Butler for the third time in four years after their success with Greenland and Angel Has Fallen. Most notably of the two, the “boots on the ground” guerrilla filmmaking style used in Greenland fits perfectly to Kandahar to create an incredibly gripping, intense experience that is shot beautifully. Side note: don’t be surprised if you are impressed with the aerial footage feeling so remarkably realistic that you begin wondering how they did it. Spoiler: REAL DRONES!
Speaking of Butler, it is impossible to dislike him in anything at this point. He may play a similar character in almost every picture, but it works EVERY SINGLE TIME. Loving dad separated from family who is in a tough situation and has fight *insert villain/natural disaster here* to get to home/safety. Doesn’t matter how cookie cutter the premise is, Butler makes it worth watching. He is still the funny, tough guy you want to have a beer with, but in Kandahar, he has some depth and really sells the peril they face despite being equipped to handle what comes.
Ali Fazal (Death on the Nile) and Travis Fimmel (Vikings) really sell the changing of worlds aspect mentioned in the opening paragraph while commanding every scene they are in to magnificent degree as opposing operatives who puppet master many of the events of the picture. The way their characters have been written, shot, and portrayed is of a quality that an entire movie could have been focused solely on them. Watch the parallels of their stories as two sides of the same coin for maximum enjoyment. The subtleties used in their many scenes were mind-blowing master strokes in subtle storytelling.
Mitchell LaFortune did an amazing job fleshing out the narrative and the complexity of modern war in such a way that I am really looking forward to his next work. Not bad for an Army veteran (specializing in counterinsurgency) with no prior screenplay experience.
Everything above should be enough to tell you how I felt about the picture, but the most phenomenal work in Kandahar comes from “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” Navid Negahban (Aladdin). Somebody, please give this man all of the awards! What could have been a small part simply known as “Gerry’s interpreter” becomes the heart and soul of this story with raw emotion in his delivery. He might be the most expressive actor I have ever seen without becoming comic overkill. If there is ever a movie about a mute who needs to be able to cover every emotion without the ability vocalize, Navid Negahban is THAT GUY. He owns every scene (save one) he is in and made me feel every bit of the emotions he conveyed as Mo. No part of me thought that I would cry during this picture but have the tissues ready during the scenes focused on him.
Kandahar will have a number of factors working against it that could lead to some audience members enjoying it less than they should (strong box office competition and confusing story aspects). I believe the story pieces that could turn off certain viewers are both intentional and brilliantly reflect modern conflict. It is an incredible experience and one of my favorite films of 2023.