Movie Review – Kandahar

Principal Cast : Gerard Butler, Ali Fazal, Navid Negahban, Bahador Foladi, Nina Toussaint-White, Vassilis Koukalani, Mark Arnold, Tom Rhys Harries, Corey Johnson, Travis Fimmel, Ravi Aujla, Ray Haratian, Olivia-Mai Barrett, Rebecca Calder.
Synopsis: A CIA operative and his translator flee from special forces in Afghanistan after their covert mission is exposed.


Although his track record of mid-budget films being successful has actually been pretty decent of late, Gerard Butler’s desert-storming star-vehicle Kandahar, directed by his Greenland helmer Ric Roman Waugh, is a spectacular misfire. Despite some good intentions and remarkable filming locations in Saudi Arabia, Kandahar is a clumsy, emotionally indifferent, dull-as-dishwater action thriller that offers Butler at his growliest and most manly, although the sweeping mythology of TE Lawrence amidst the sand dunes this ain’t. The legacy of the West’s war in Afghanistan linger uncomfortably in the subtext of Kandahar’s politically charged character work, but the film’s flimsy development of Butler’s role – seriously, how many soon-to-be or just-divorced husbands does Butler want to play in his career – means a lot of the intended stakes and motivations aren’t strong enough to support audience interest.

Butler plays covert CIA Operative Tom Harris, who after being inserted into Afghanistan for a job by his handler, Roman (Travis Fimmel), finds both he and his translator and guide, Mo (Navid Negahban) on the run from a variety of malicious groups intent on capturing him as a hostage, in particular a Pakistani agent (Ali Fazal) who will stop at nothing to kill him. Escaping into the desert of Afghanistan to find an extraction point, Tom and Mo must try to survive long enough for their American rescuers to save them.

Mixing a little of Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, Peter Berg’s The Kingdom and the 2001 Gene Hackman/Owen Wilson potboiler Behind Enemy Lines, Gerard Butler’s Kandahar owes a lot of its tone, action and plot to a bunch of other (better) movies. Scripted by Mitchell LaFortune and based on his experiences as a special intelligence officer deployed to Afghanistan, Kandahar feels compelling because if its insistent grounding in realism, a factor far too infrequent in many a Gerard Butler movie. There’s a huge variety of contributing factors to Kandahar’s chase-and-escape plotting involving various factions of regional power-players – not the least of which is the United States – and in terms of giving us one specific Bad Guy to hiss at the film is pretty ambivalent to exactly who we want to hope bites it by the end credits. This makes following the story a touch tough if you’re unfamiliar with a more intimate level of understanding of Middle-East politics (and I, sadly, wasn’t – I had to spend a bit of time with Wikipedia in my lap while watching); the plus side is that the film doesn’t feel like it’s catering to the stupidest people in the room, but it also doesn’t do quite enough to explain it enough to the stupidest people in the room, like myself.

I also thought Butler’s character, Tom Harris, was a pretty under-developed character overall. The film gives him a rapidly approaching marriage breakdown and shitty time management skills, but that’s about it. As he’s chased across the deserts and jumbled cities of Afghanistan, Tom remains a sympathetic character only because people are shooting at him, not for anything else he, through Butler, brings to the movie. With such an indifferently bland role, Butler is left to generate as much muscular excitement as he can as he further mangles the English language delivering dialogue so action-movie inane I actually chuckled a bit, and although there are a couple of sequences in Kandahar that were quite the diverting watch, I found the film so decidedly dull I kept checking out. I’m still not entirely sure why: all the component parts are inherently interesting or agreeable – Butler is usually a solid watch, and he isn’t awful here, while Ric Roman Waugh is a typically solid, if unremarkable, director, and the smattering of minority actors cast in various Middle-Eastern character roles (despite more than a coupe being British-born) was excellent.

Kandahar’s main problem is that it all feels so inert, so frustratingly impenetrable that it makes enjoying it impossible. I thought the actors all did a great job with their respective roles, the production design, location shooting and visual effects were all above average, and the honesty with which the script delivered a true-to-life experience is remarkable – I just didn’t connect with it at all. It doesn’t help that the film spends its entire first third getting to the point of it all, to have Butler have to escape Afghanistan despite constant pursuit, and that first third isn’t strong enough to build up all the requisite characters – with the exception of Travis Fimmel’s brilliant Roman Chalmers – to engage the audience. Perhaps if it had been more Chuck Norris in The Delta Force and less Gerard Butler in “The Dour Sandchase” I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. Butler enthusiasts will want to check it out, because it’s a film that is honestly one of the more focused of the actor’s protracted action career, but it never clicks properly with the viewer, so casual viewers can skip it.


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