This is one of director Guy Ritchie’s best films.

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is a serious, contemplative look at the horrors of warfare. It also happens to be a no-holds-barred action movie about a friendship forged under fire. 

The setting is 2018 toward the end of the Afghanistan War. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Sgt. John Kinley who, along with his elite tactical unit, seeks factories that produce IEDs (improvised explosive devices.)

After their interpreter is killed, Kinley must find someone to take his place. He selects Ahmed (Dar Salim,) who speaks four languages and has a grudge against the Taliban.

At times, Ahmed and Kinley butt heads. But they grow to respect each other.

Ritchie doesn’t go easy on the audience or his characters. He show warfare in all its messiness, tragedy and tension. Soldiers die and are severely wounded right in front of the audience. You never quite know what to expect while the tension mounts even more during brief interludes of quiet.

At one point, Ahmed goes to great lengths to save Kinley’s life. The mostly unconscious Kinley doesn’t realize how much Ahmed puts himself in harm’s way, but we do, because we see Ahmed struggle through dangerous terrain to try to get Kinley to safety.  

When Kinley regains consciousness, he will learn more, including how Ahmed and his family are now on the run from the Taliban. What can Kinley, safe in California with his family, do for Ahmed now?

There isn’t a bad performance here. Gyellnhaal is impressive as always, and Salim is terrific, too.

I’m continually impressed by the crop of solid-to-superb movies so far in 2023, and this is among the top-notch films that stand a good chance of awards consideration at the end of the year.

This is intense. Brace yourself for this finely wrought war movie.

3 ½ stars

Rated: R for foul language, violence and gore.

Running time: Two hours and three minutes.

At Cinemark, Davenport; Regal, Moline; and Palms 10, Muscatine.

Watch the trailer here.