'Kandahar' review: Gerard Butler tries finding his way home in taunt action thriller
Courtesy of Open Road Films
Between “Greenland,” “Plane” and now the equally pulpy B-movie “Kandahar,” it’s evident Gerard Butler has embraced the mid-budget actioner that made Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme household names during their peak in the 1980s. Butler represents an old school creed of gritty leading men, the kind of actor who can pull up his bootstraps and deliver a slender two hour escape where the viewer doesn’t have to use their brain cells. Some actors struggle to know which is which or take the work too seriously, but Butler aligns himself with projects that understand the economics (and narrative logistics) of mid-budget action films targeted at adults. He also makes them for movie theaters and that’s nothing short of a miracle.
In his new film, “Kandahar,” the chiseled star pulls out all the usual blood, sweat, and tenacity of his earlier work playing an ex-MI6 agent now turned CIA operative Tom Harris. In a tense opening sequence, we see his character orchestrate the detonation of an Iranian nuclear facility, which sends the region into a frenzy trying to figure out the culprit. Including officials taking a British journalist hostage, who ends up spilling the intel on the entire operation. Thus leaving Tom exposed while on another dangerous mission in Afghanistan.
Overnight, Tom and his interpreter Mohammad (Navid Negahban - great) find themselves on the Taliban’s most wanted list and the target of an Iranian intelligence officer (Bahador Foladi); and a Pakistani agent, Kahil (Ali Fazal) who all want the duo for ulterior motives. What follows is a mad-dash to an extraction point in Kandahar, and action filmmaker Ric Roman Waugh, who has worked with Butler on a dozen films, keeps the pace loose as the hours tick away at Tom and Mohammad’s last grab of freedom.
Screenwriter Mitchell LaFourtune makes sure the dynamics of Tom and Mohammad’s relationship is anything but generic. The two earn their trust over the course of the film and Tom even has a soothing heart-to-heart about how interpreters throw everything, including their families lives, on the line for the cause (bringing forth parallels to “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant'' from earlier this year). Additionally, “Kandahar” was filmed in Saudi Arabia, which gives the movie an authentic sheen where most would probably substitute shoddy CGI.
On the whole, “Kandahar” is an action and suspense movie first and isn’t looking too closely at how Western society imposed its will on the unsuspecting nation, but the impact can be felt throughout the movie. But thanks to a slew of impressive set pieces, including a night-time helicopter shoot-out in the middle of the desert, “Kandahar” avoids cliche trappings for something grounded and realized. It gets the job done and looks like a real movie. In 2023, we’ll take what we can get.
KANDAHAR opens in theaters everywhere Friday, May 26th.