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There is nothing in Kandahar that we haven’t seen on screen before, and seen done better

Review of Kandahar

Priyanka Roy  Published 19.06.23, 04:57 AM
Kandahar, frontlined by Gerard Butler, is streaming on Prime Video

Kandahar, frontlined by Gerard Butler, is streaming on Prime Video

Kandahar is too dull, derivative and deadbeat to make itself credible or compelling. A paint-by-the-numbers espionage thriller in which seemingly important men sitting at Langley furrow their brows and look at dozens of TV screens in front of them broadcasting what’s happening in every nook and cranny in the Middle East in a perpetual do-redo-rinse-repeat loop, Kandahar wears its political awareness a bit too seriously on its sleeve and forgets to make an entertaining, or even fairly engaging, film in the process.

Belonging easily to the ‘Gerard Butler sub-genre’ — he’s featured in enough of these assembly-line projects to spawn his own — Kandahar is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, Butler’s collaborator in similar one-man-against-the-world survival films like Greenland and Angel Has Fallen.


The beats, therefore, are familiar. Butler is a black-ops CIA operative who helps set the stage for the US to blow up an Iranian nuclear facility. Tom Harris is played by the actor with the kind of rugged handsomeness that makes you believe that he will be able to extricate himself from any kind of sticky situation. Tom, as is essential for any secret agent abnormally married to his job, has a terrible personal life. An early phone call with his estranged wife exposes him as a sad sack who needs to get back home to at least see his daughter graduate. “Not so fast,” his handler tells him and promptly sends Tom off to another job. But once his cover is blown, it’s up to the man to navigate treacherous terrain — both geographical and socio-political — and make his way to safety.

There is nothing in Kandahar that we haven’t seen on screen before, and seen done better. AlUla in Saudi Arabia stands in as a location for Afghanistan, and while the sights are eye-pleasing, the film doesn’t bother with training its camera on them too much. What we get instead is a plot that gets more and more convoluted, even if ironically it seems like the film is stuck in the same place. Harris’s reluctant co-traveller in this journey is Mohammed (aka ‘Mo’), initially brought in as his translator, who has his own backstory, tinged by the politics of the region. To be fair, Navid Negahban plays Mo with a kind of world-weary appeal that suits the part, but Kandahar does the actor no favours.

What is most stupefying is the presence of Ali Fazal. Playing a Pakistani agent named Kahil — out to nab Tom for his own (and his country’s) gain so that they can dispose him off to the highest bidder — Ali starts off with a scene that promises much, but at the end of it all, our only takeaway from his part is that the young actor looks fairly good in a black leather jacket.

What also drags down Kandahar is that for an action film, it has too much pontification and expository dialogue. Waugh, a former stuntman much like Extraction’s Sam Hargrave, could have simply flitted from one action set-piece to another, but his ambition to make Kandahar more weighty in terms of its story and outlook actually does it a fair amount of disservice.In the end, Kandahar remains a one-note film with very little dramatic arc. It is as disposable as it is forgettable.

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