' ' Cinema Romantico: Kandahar

Monday, August 14, 2023


As Gerard Butler’s previous 2023 action thriller “Plane” began, his pilot character was late for the flight that would take him to see his daughter. As Gerard Butler’s second 2023 action thriller “Kandahar” begins, his freelance contractor, Tom Harris, needs to make a flight back home from the Middle East in time for his daughter’s graduation. This might provide impeccable set-up for a Fallon-esque “Who’s Writing This, AI?” joke, though I would prefer to think of it merely as cheeky if solid screenwriting craftsmanship. Circumstances intervene, however, and before long Tom finds himself trekking through a perilous region of the desert, hoping to reach a transport flight in Kandahar as various competing factions all seek to get him. If it’s a crackerjack set-up, it is also a bad omen that director Ric Roman Waugh takes far too long kicking things into gear, rendering “Kandahar” as something of an unfortunate slog straight of out of the gate and belying its ultimate intentions. Despite one nifty action sequence that repurposes the kind of darkness so many movies serve up these days as a woebegone atmospheric crutch into something thrilling by way of a fight between man and helicopter in the pitch-black desert, “Kandahar” is much less an action movie in the vein of “Plane” than one striving unsuccessfully for profundity about Middle East geopolitics.

Waugh previously directed Butler in “Greenland,” an end of the world adventure that was surprisingly effective given how it married Butler’s quest with unique side characters and situations. Essentially, “Kandahar” is trying to replicate that formula, and might have made for a modern-day “Odd Man Out.” To its credit, even if the kidnapped female journalist (Nina Toussaint-White) forced to give up the leaked information that blows Tom’s cover is forgotten by the plot and more traditional action thriller scenes like a game of cat and mouse in a market writes off the various extras as collateral, “Kandahar” does a better job than you might expect seeing its various supporting characters in more than two-dimensional terms, the personal and political becoming indistinguishable in the plight of Tom’s translator Mo Doud (Navid Negahban). The movie, though, fails to see Mo’s storyline through to any kind of revealing conclusion, preferring to keep Tom’s plight front and center. That is all the more ironic given Tom’s mid-movie monologue of white guilt for coming to places in the Middle East and trying to impose law and order with no thought to the people who occupy it, making for a strange, anti-climactic movie that virtually erases its whole reason for being as it goes along.

No comments: