by Philip Price
“The Covenant” is a solid genre flick elevated by everything it's made up of. Director Guy Ritchie's craft has never been more appreciated despite this largely not feeling like Ritchie in any traditional sense. This shouldn't be a surprise though, as lately, the director has inserted himself into genres to try his hand at rather than placing the genre itself in a stylistic chokehold. After more than 25 years of making movies, Ritchie has figured out how to impress his manifesto upon a platform rather than changing it completely. With “The Covenant,” one can feel the looseness of the filmmaking and how it tends to emphasize the unpredictability of many of the scenarios we are thrown into, but rather than reinventing the wheel, Ritchie simply uses his style to make the wheel turn effectively.
Separate from but intrinsically linked to Ritchie's contributions are the two rock-solid lead performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim who bridge the gap between the two distinct parts of this film that might have felt more glaring were it not for their ability to communicate why one aspect is as vital as the other. As it turns out, the film is as much about the kinds of actions these people are asked to take and the sacrifices they are asked to make as it is the system that props them up when they're of service and lets them go when they move on. There are some tremendously compelling editing and shot selections in certain moments that communicate the frustration of the fraudulence these interpreters at the heart of the story are brought in under. Editing has always been a key staple of Ritchie's style, but here the result inspires more intense and complicated feelings than it signals a smirk. “The Covenant” displays as much as it does diagnose what it's examining without ever feeling pontifical or exploitative and while it might always remain questionable if Ritchie was the right person to tell this story it would seem indisputable that he did in fact do it justice.
“The Covenant” is currently in theaters.
If one were to mix the mentality of Edgar Wright with a little bit of Matthew Vaughn's bite and then add a dash of commercial Steven Soderbergh, you'd have a semblance of what writer/director Nida Manzoor's “Polite Society” is all about. It's an incredibly energetic and surprisingly British adventure despite the clear Pakistani inspirations.
Between the character dynamics of sisters Ria (Priya Kansara) and Lena (Ritu Arya), the sisters and their parents, their parents and their social circles, as well as Ria and her school friends and how each of these manages to keep the tone in check while feeding into and helping to develop these very authentic themes such as how loving someone with such intensity makes it hard to let them go but trying to save someone who doesn't care to be saved or view themselves as being in a position that needs saving only pushes them further away is really impressive; all of it coalescing into something with a real pulse and flavor all its own. That said, Manzoor, her cast, and as a result, the film never takes anything too seriously making what is a pretty trippy plot twist and some really fun action sequences all the more cohesive with everything mentioned prior.
“Polite Society” goes for a lot and Manzoor had to have the right type of control in order to make all of her attempts work successfully, but her field goal percentage is pretty damn spectacular. There are all these hilarious and equally outlandish little touches throughout the film that serve to balance out the more genuine emotions at the heart of the story, but it is those core themes that remain prevalent. How often the dialogue is cut off by a scene change for comic effect really worked for me, the hawk sound effect on the versus sequences, the condom-planting scene, the structuring with Ria's letters to her stunt hero, Eunice ("I know you must be super busy working on a Marvel or a Star War...") and the whole idea of taking the "monster-in-law" motif to an almost surreal and truly bizarre level all somehow managed to make sense in the same movie and yet I still came away being most impressed by the growth of the two central characters. And so, in short, I can't wait to see where Manzoor's career goes from here.
“Polite Society” can be seen in select theaters, as well as rented for $19.99 on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube & AppleTV.