Kandahar (2023)
Kandahar (2023)

Genre: Action and War Running Time: 2 hrs.

Release Date: May 26th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ric Roman Waugh Actors: Gerard Butler, Navid Negahban, Ali Fazal, Bahador Foladi, Nina Toussaint-White, Travis Fimmel, Tom Rhys Harries




n Qom, Iran, Siblixt Communications LTD technician Tom Harris (Gerard Butler) hacks into a computer system in a junction box to feed intelligence back to the CIA in Langley, Virginia. Though he’s posing as a telephone repairman, alongside undercover agent Oliver Alterman (Tom Rhys Harries), to boost internet speeds, the local military forces are understandably suspicious of Harris’ work. In reality, after nuclear agreements were abandoned in the country, the U.S. government is desperate to get to the bottom of what the Iranian’s nuclear sector has been up to.

Due to the constant dangers of working in the Middle East – something he specializes in – Tom’s family life suffers. His wife Corrine (Rebecca Calder) wants to move on, unable to deal with the stresses of having her significant other always on the verge of death; and he often misses out on milestones with their daughter Ida (Olivia-Mai Barrett), who is about to graduate. And, sure enough, his situation is about to get just that much more complicated – and deadly – when operatives from the United Arab Emirates sneak into Afghanistan; when neighboring Pakistan starts meddling in various affairs; when wealthy handler/middleman Roman Chalmers (Travis Fimmel) offers up a hefty sum of cash for a new three-day job to destroy an airstrip; and when a journalist (Nina Toussaint-White as Luna Cujai) being monitored by the Iranian authorities turns out to be the perfect scapegoat, as the Supreme Leader thinks his government is starting to look weak.

The political intrigue is just complicated enough that it might confuse some viewers; anyone oblivious to the goings-on in Middle Eastern turmoil will be lost as to why the Iranians suspect Israel, for example, or what the connection is between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Quetta Taliban, or why ISIS offshoots would attack various warlords. At the same time, there are a lot of characters here – each involved tangentially at first, before links between them start to fill in – which makes it even more difficult to sort out who is doing what and for whom; even Harris’ last-minute translator Mohammad Doud (Navid Negahban) isn’t a mere supporting player, as he has his own side mission to sort out. And location changes flash onscreen almost every other scene, shifting back and forth between countries. Fortunately, it’s fairly obvious that Butler is the primary hero to follow – and that the people helping him are protagonists, at least until they possibly betray him (something quite likely, based on the sheer quantity of roles). “The harder you try to stomp out an ideology, the stronger it becomes.”

The result, ironically, is a rather simple second half; numerous enemy factions all want Harris dead, and start assembling assassins and elite soldiers to hunt him down. If the first part was slow due to the introduction and establishment of so many personas, cryptic relationships, and surveillance operations, the following section certainly picks up the pace. The picture transitions suddenly from countless plot-building conversations and phone calls to an explosive car chase. But it doesn’t last long. “A violent act must be met with another.”

With so many characters (even in the third act, new characters arrive), an abundance of unnecessary scenes bog down the proceedings – including showing brief yet pointless moments of family issues or personal fatigues for villain Fazard (Bahador Foladi), an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leader, and Kahil (Ali Fazal), a Pakistani mercenary. Regardless of what they represent (which is, essentially, contrasting interests and viewpoints for the unrest in the region and a distinct humanization of all sides), they’re all too generic and unsympathetic for anyone to care. For a film that surely wants to present itself as an action-packed thriller, any extraneous details are detrimental to pacing; audiences aren’t likely to give much thought to the premise (which includes a glimmer of important recognition for the locals who risked their lives to help U.S. endeavors, many receiving not even a thanks) as much as the intensity. And though there are a couple of engaging sequences of shootouts and showdowns and destruction, “Kandahar” is ultimately very lethargic; for every hair-raising fight, dozens of moments of insubstantial particulars drag out the runtime. Butler is a dependable action star, in the same vein as Liam Neeson, but this production is about as bland and unmemorable as they get (evidenced even with the title, which suggests that the distributors couldn’t be bothered with something catchy or powerful).

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10