MAY 26TH, 2023
STARRING: GERARD BUTLER, NAVID NEGAHBAN, ALI FAZAL, TRAVIS FILMMEL, COREY JOHNSON
DIRECTED BY: RIC ROMAN WAUGH
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The void that has been left by great action movies has grown deeper and wider since the glory days of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Comic book movies swooped in, the movie star died, and B-level action became a thing of the past. Fans such as myself have longed to get back to those times when technology was used less, and everything on the screen looked like something you could touch. Someone leading the charge to get back to those times is director Ric Roman Waugh and he’s succeeding with Kandahar. This is a thrilling action throwback that keeps your pulse racing and your butt on the edge of your seat. Kandahar is a reminder that great action can still deliver a bang.
Our hero is Tom Harris (Gerard Butler), an operative that has spent nearly two years in Afghanistan, and has now finished his final job…or so he thought. The hope was to get back home to his son and ex-wife to at least recover the pieces left behind. Under the behest of his director Roman (a lively Travis Fimmel), he asks for one more mission to take out another nuclear facility in Kandahar, along with his interpreter Mo (Navid Negahban) to guide him, but when their faces are spread across the news it becomes a race for survival. What starts as one man’s burden becomes a story of two men, both on opposite sides of a war, working together to get to their families.
The narrative from writer Mitchell LaFortune is an update on the current state of war, where the men and women who fought in the middle east struggle to get out, but leaving it behind is also a shock of reality. Where Kandahar succeeds is strictly the direction from Ric Roman Waugh, who has a great appreciation for authentic action sequences, with car explosions, and the hunt for Harris getting more intense by the hour. Waugh had previously worked with Butler on Greenland and Angel Has Fallen, but the collaboration here is their best. The story wastes little time, placing our characters in the middle of the desert, and creating a tone of the unpredictable.
The situation alone will reel you in and then hooks you with action sequences that are some of the best of 2023. Waugh becomes a master of tension using the unpredictable landscape. As Harris and Mo walk through a market, multiple men start to follow them, including an assassin named Kahil (Ali Fazal). The tracking turns into a chase, with Harris taking a car, escaping into the desert. Just when they think they are clear with the pitch black sky as their cover, Waugh turns the cinematography into night vision, with a helicopter stalking like Jaws in the air. The climax is the second great action sequence, with Kahil on a motorcycle, like a cowboy on his horse riding till he gets his mark. His wreckless pursuit is possessed, standing on the bike, shooting from afar, and building in a similar way to Westerns such as High Plains Drifter, True Grit, or No Country for Old Men. It’s the man on the black horse, chasing until Harris realizes he must take things into his own hand.
Kandahar gradually builds on our fears and isn’t afraid to let Harris and Mo discuss what it means to take care of others. Although the story can be too simplistic for a time of war, Waugh isn’t making it about left or right, but instead about the men left holding the bag. The narrative makes sure to give Mo a deeper character arc and although Harris’ story is only surface level, playing the hardened man with regret is Butler’s lane. Kandahar is absolutely enthralling. This is the type of slick and well-constructed action that we desperately need more of. Some will be reminded of Zero Dark Thirty or Body of Lies, but Waugh and Butler work in their own style, making for an excellent pair. The action movie genre is in full force for Kandahar, taking us squarely into the middle of town, and reminding us that these are the kinds of movies that can rule once again. Here’s hoping that Kandahar is just the beginning.
KANDAHAR IS PLAYING IN THEATERS FRIDAY MAY 26TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady