“Kandahar” is a not really a war movie. It is more like a movie set in a war zone. The main action is set in Afghanistan, near the border with Iran. And then you throw in a little background action in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and you have an entire U.N. of hostile groups ready to rumble. Put a CIA operative into the mix and see what hits the fan…
In the Iranian city near a nuclear facility, there are two telecomm guys who are Westerners. Surrounded by the Iranian troops, these two are working on a ‘network upgrade’. The military boss yells at Tom Harris (played by Gerard Butler). “What did you do?”
Tom comes back with his phone, showing all the troops the Internet is now super-fast. They can all watch soccer now. That gets a smile out of them, even the angry boss. Tom has a partner named Oliver (played by Tom Rhys Harries). He is glad just to get out of there alive.
Nope – it was a bait-and-switch. Tom is working for the CIA and so is Oliver. He planted a remote device that allows the Agency to take over an Iranian nuclear facility. Later that day, Tom leaves – just as the Agency techs cause the nuclear facility to go boom. Oliver is going to stay for a while, but soon he will be out.
Tom goes to Saudi Arabia to catch a flight home. But he first visits a CIA connected handler, named Roman (played by Travis Fimme).Roman has one other quick job for Tom. This will be in Afghanistan, and he already rounded up a perfect partner to act as translator. Tom agrees, but he needs to be home for his daughter’s graduation.
Roman is very persuasive, but not as persuasive as the loads of cash he stacks on his desk. Look, you go into northern Afghanistan, cross the border into Iran, blow up an airfield and runway — then you get back home – just like that.
But back in Iran, there is a Western female journalist who getting confidential information. Luna Cujai (played by Nina Toussaint-White) found an inside source who explains the attack on the nuclear facility was a CIA job. The source sends all the information to Luna, who then sends it to her editor.
But she did not know that the Iranian secret police also found out. Farzad Asadi (played by Bahador Foladi), who is in charge has Luna kidnapped. They get all her information. Her sources revealed the employee badges of the ‘two telecomm guys’ who worked on the ‘network upgrade’. Oliver is found quickly, before he had a chance to get out.
Now they are on the look out for Tom Harris. They know him by what he looks like, but not his name. Tom is now in northern Afghanistan, meeting up with the translator. Mohammed (played by Navid Negahban) is a local guy who has grown up in this town, but moved away a long time ago. Neither of them knows there are forces out to get them.
Tom gets word that his mission is called off, that he and ‘Mo’ need to get out of there pronto. The only way to escape is to get to Kandahar. It is about 400 miles to the south. There will hundreds of miles filled with nothing but enemies. The Iranian secret police have an elite group to find Tom. There is also a Pakistani ISI agent named Kahil (played by Ali Fazal). He wants to find Tom and kidnap him so that Tom can be sold to the highest bidder.
That is not to mention the Afgani Taliban, and the former Afgani military Special Forces units. There are also the regional Afghani warlords and strong-men. The CIA is out of commission and has no authority to assist. The British intelligence has an operation in Kandahar at an abandoned airport. That is where Tom and Mo are headed right now. But they are being tracked. The elite Iranian squad (Farzad Asadi) is on their trail. But so is the lone-wolf operative Kalil.
First Tom and Mo take an ol’ reliable pickup truck. They have a lot of miles to cover. At night, Tom runs the truck dark – and he uses night-vision goggles. Tom and Mo get into a tussle with Iranian hit squad coming up in a helicopter. The truck gets ruined, but Tom is able to protect Mo, and he is able to take down the chopper.
Agent Kalil is not that far behind, and he knows that Tom and Mo are now travelling by foot. Tom and Mo are captured by the agents of an Afgani Warlord. He is named Ismail Rabbani (played by Ray Haratian). Mo knows that this Warlord is the one who destroyed his Afghani city up north, and his troops killed Mo’s son. The tensions are red-hot. But Mo is ready to forgive him. They get what they need to get to the airport in Kandahar.
Kalil has other local operatives in Afghanistan, and his government is willing to pay more to capture Mo and Tom. A small faction of former Taliban fighters grabs Tom and Mo. They have these guys locked up in a small village, just outside of Kandahar. But suddenly there is wild fire-fight. The small Taliban compound gets overrun by ISIS fighters in heavy vehicles.
But these attakers are not actually ISIS. These guys are really former Afghani military Special Forces. They are aligned with Tom’s old friend and CIA contact Roman. Roman helps Tom and Mo escape, and gets all three of them off to the airport in time to get on that military transport.
Everything is in the clear now. Except for that pesky Kalil fellow, who has rounded up loads of Taliban minions. All of these fighters are ready to cut off Tom, Mo and Roman – well before they get to the gate. It would a miracle to get by these guys. It would take a miracle — or an airstrike from well-placed US drones. But the CIA does not have any jurisdiction to do that, right?
“Kandahar” is a puzzling movie. There is not enough action to be a good “Action Thriller” and not clear enough suspense to be a good “Spy Intrigue” type of movie. Gerard Butler is always up for a solid action scene. But thinking that he works for the CIA is stretch. He is ‘on loan’ from British MI-6, as if that clears it up.
Navid Negahban does some decent work, but there not a whole lot to his story. Ali Fazal (plays Pakistani agent Kahil) seems to be enjoying his time as the charismatic, motorcycle-driving spy. Travis Fimme (as Roman) has a somewhat interesting backstory, but we never get to hear about it. There is a desire to make the plot seem to be ‘ripped from the headlines. But there are too many characters to try and follow and to keep straight.
“Kandahar” starts off by getting into the gritty details of international dirty tricks, but the movie turns into a dangerous road trip through Afghanistan.
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
Written by: Mitchell LaFortune
Starring: Gerard Butler, Navid Negahban, Ali Fazal, Bahador Foladi, Nina Toussaint-White, Ray Haratian, Tom Rhys Harries, Travis Fimmel
Edited by: Colby Parker Jr.
Music by: David Buckley
Distributed by: Open Road Films
Release date: May 26, 2023
Length: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA rating: R for violence and language
Genre: Action, Suspense
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