Combustible Celluloid Review - Kandahar (2023), Mitchell LaFortune, Ric Roman Waugh, Ric Roman Waugh, Gerard Butler, Navid Negahban, Travis Fimmel, Ali Fazal, Nina Toussaint-White, Bahador Foladi, Elnaaz Norouzi
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With: Gerard Butler, Navid Negahban, Travis Fimmel, Ali Fazal, Nina Toussaint-White, Bahador Foladi, Elnaaz Norouzi
Written by: Mitchell LaFortune, Ric Roman Waugh
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 120
Date: 05/26/2023

Kandahar (2023)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Middle-Eastern Promises

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This Afghanistan-set actioner starts off pretty rough, with tons of exposition and little character, but as it moves along and narrows its focus, it becomes surprisingly gripping, and even emotional.

Tom Harris (Gerard Butler) is working for the CIA as Special Ops in the Middle East. On his latest assignment, he manages to blow up an Iranian nuclear facility. Unfortunately, a whistleblower has given information about the program to a journalist (Nina Toussaint-White), and Tom's position is compromised.

Even worse, he has just been assigned a new interpreter, Mohammad Doud, nicknamed "Mo" (Navid Negahban), and Mo's life is now subsequently in danger. So, pursued by the relentless Kahil (Ali Fazal), and most of the Taliban's forces, Tom and Mo must cross 400 miles of hostile terrain to get to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they have a slim chance of escaping back to the United States.

Stuntman turned director Ric Roman Waugh pulled off a similar trick in his last outing with Butler, the asteroid disaster movie Greenland, and even though Kandahar isn't nearly as effective, it has some similar touches.

The first-time screenwriter Mitchell LaFortune packs his thorough script with details, and, rather than taking chintzy shortcuts to suggest it, it feels like a fleshed-out world. Yet, leaping all over from Iran to Afghanistan to Dubai and introducing many characters in a short amount of time, without a clue as to who they are and what their relationships are, the movie can be initially frustrating.

But once Tom and Mo begin their lengthy escape attempt, things ramp up. We learn that Tom has served six tours in the Middle East, and is no longer convinced he's fighting for anything. And he feels guilt over the loss of his previous translator, and putting Mo in danger, as well as for neglecting his family by being away. And so the choices made by both Tom and Mo — often more personal than patriotic — carry some weight. Indeed, Kandahar is often more heartbreaking than it is exciting. It's an action movie with a soul.

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