Quick Reviews: 'Guy Ritchie's The Covenant', 'The Pope's Exorcist' | Jake Gyllenhaal, Russell Crowe
GUY RITCHIE'S THE COVENANT
No, please, no. I only ordered one Guy Ritchie-directed effort for this year's movie selection. And now he's added his name to the obnoxious list of filmmakers or authors having their name in the title? Fine, let's talk about Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, the newest action thriller contribution to ''dad cinema''. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as John Kinley, a master sergeant serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, whose crew gets a new interpreter Ahmed (Dar Salim) who's trying to get visas for himself and his family. After a Taliban attack results in everyone else in the crew except John and Ahmed getting killed, the two of them must attempt to travel 100 kilometres back to their base while Taliban forces chase them and before bureaucracy causes problems for Ahmed and his family.
''The Covenant'' sometimes shows plenty of promise when it actually decides to focus on the bond between John and Ahmed and their shared mission, grounded really effectively by both Gyllenhaal and Salim who are constantly creating a lot out of nothing. That's a real feat since the screenplay and its lousy dialogue co-written by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies isn't even an improvement from their earlier effort from this year ('Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre'), letting the actors down with generic lines and thematic connections about regret, resistance and perseverance. Ritchie also isn't able to elevate things as a director as his frames desperately lack depth, movement and comprehensible choreography even with the simplest of action or gun fight scenes, making it even more impressive that Christopher Benstead's score manages to ramp up tension when it uses plucks and relentless percussion to make up for the dull visualisation. Gyllenhaal and Salim are almost able to sell that tension but it's hard to do that when it's all overruled by machines in the end.
Smileys: Score, acting
Frowneys: Dialogue, directing, screenplay
THE POPE'S EXORCIST
Do not worry, Hollywood's horror offerings aren't releasing their grip on demons, exorcisms or religion any time soon because, spoiler alert, that recipe still makes a lot of money. The Pope's Exorcist is another example of that as director Julius Avery's supernatural horror film adapts Gabriele Amorth's books 'An Exorcist Tells His Story' and 'An Exorcist: More Stories'. Based on the author's own career as an exorcist, Russell Crowe stars as Father Gabriele Amorth himself, a scooter-riding Catholic priest from Italy who is sent on a mission to Spain where he meets his colleague Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and an American family whose young son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) is possessed by a demon (voiced by Ralph Ineson). Alex Essoe plays Henry's mom Julia and Laurel Marsden his older sister Amy.
You can definitely see in the beginning and in small glimpses throughout what the movie could've been as Avery and Crowe team up to introduce the main character tongue in cheek and later expand his personal journey neatly with flashbacks. The problem is just that those victories are only ideas and aren't really indicative of what controls the screenplay by Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos and their storytelling. Horror sequences, character arcs and ways to get to those sequences with these characters are a mishmash of clichés and templates that have been done better before, this movie doing them mostly quite averagely.
Avery's direction and his characters' decisions are motivated by stupidity for most of the runtime which just isn't fun or terrifying and it's pretty hard to say which of those Avery and his collaborators were going for in any given moment. Amorth as a character certainly gives you a chance to deliver an effective and spooky horror film—and everyone involved clearly recognise that based on the sequel bait at the end—but this time all of it was merely smoke and mirrors.
Smileys: Nothing stands out
Frowneys: Originality, screenplay, directing