Three pillars of human existence and the bonds between us define Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, a story of survival, instinct, and basic human goodness in a time and place that does not support or forgive such acts.

The place is Afghanistan, and our extended stay following the 9/11 attacks. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Sergeant John Kinley, the squad leader charged with detecting IEDs and safely disarming them. Kinley enlists Ahmed, played by Dar Salim (Exodus: Gods and Kings) to get through the country. Ahmed, who seeks revenge on the Taliban, joins the platoon on their missions.

Ritchie diverges from his usual fare offering The Covenant as a drama. Gyllenhaal, who has played military figures in the past (Jarhead), is exceptional as Kinley. Gyllenhaal is regimented with a snarky, wry sense of humor. The initial conversation between Kinley and Ahmed sews a tepid trust, one that Salim excels at. The human interest piece weaves the two men’s stories together; neither story works without their respective bookends, and neither actor outshines the other. Together, they make a formidable duo in Guy Ritchie’s inimitable way.

Ritchie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, focuses on the two men’s backgrounds while not sacrificing the rest of the story, taking a page from John Boorman.

The supporting cast, namely Emily Beecham as Caroline Kinley, Antony Starr as Eddie Parker, and Jonny Lee Miller’s Colonel Vokes, ensure that Kinley reaches his objective despite the odds against him.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant strengthens its position through real warfare and the resulting fallout. Though I have not served in the military, enough articles, documentaries, and movies exist to confirm this; Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is not trying to be more than the sum of its parts, mainly due to the committed performances from Gyllenhaal and Salim.

The movie’s success is not just in front of the camera or on the screen. Looking at the sun-drenched imagery, I questioned the locations used, as I kept thinking California or Utah, only to discover that Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant was filmed in Spain. From the news coverage I’ve observed over the years, Spain stood in for Afghanistan effectively, mainly due to cinematographer Ed Wild’s strong use of the anamorphic frame and avoidance of many action-oriented camera work that has invaded other action films of its ilk. Whether we’re on the base, seeing Kinley talking with Vokes, and Ahmed trekking through the rugged terrain with Kinley in tow, the actors, the locations, and the action all look stunning and add to the experience of the unfolding drama. Editor James Herbert imbues the movie with an effective editorial structure that allows the foundational idea of the three pillars to flourish. The action never undercuts the drama, and the drama never undercuts the plot’s effectiveness.

This combines to create a tremendous theater-going experience for audiences who choose to see Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. Ironically, audiences form a bond with movies, and the experience of seeing a film on a large screen is still something to be cherished, even in our ever-increasing digitally dominated age.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Written by Guy Ritchie and Ivan Atkinson & Marn Davies

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Antony Starr, Alexander Ludwig, Bobby Schofield, Emily Beecham, Jonny Lee Miller

R, 123 mins, STX Films/MGM/Amazon Studios