Review by David Baldwin
Remember when Gerard Butler was going to be Hollywood’s next leading man? He was in a few memorable titles in the early 2000s, exploded out of the gate with 300 in 2007, landed himself in a few action hero and rom-com flicks, and then coasted along on the most random mix of basically every genre you can think of. Witness his output from 2013-2016 – a bit part as a “Leprechaun” in the ludicrous Movie 43, the lead in the “Die Hard in the White House” thriller Olympus Has Fallen, the voice of Jay Baruchel’s Dad in How to Train Your Dragon 2, a villainous Egyptian god (which, hilarious) in Gods of Egypt, the sequel London Has Fallen and a dramatic role in A Family Man, which premiered at TIFF in 2016. I have absolutely zero recollection of its existence. I am not sure if that list shows the man’s range, his eclectic taste in roles or is a literal manifestation of Hollywood not having any idea what to do with this guy.
I mention all of this not to chastise Butler. The man is a reliable player who does not really colour outside the lines and Mission Kandahar (or just Kandahar if you are in the US or just into the whole brevity thing) looked like a film in his wheelhouse. My only hope was that the film would avoid being a racist, xenophobic white saviour picture (thankfully it does). The film revolves around Tom Harris (Butler), a CIA Operative who had a hand in the destruction of an Iranian nuclear facility and is now on a secret mission in Afghanistan with his translator Mohammad ‘Mo’ Doud (Navid Negahban, who played the Sultan in the live action Aladdin and big bad Abu Nazir on Homeland). Everything is going well until Harris’ identity is exposed, leaving the mission burned and Harris and Mo on the run. Their only way to survive is to get to an old military base in Kandahar for extraction, all while avoiding the multiple groups desperate to take them out by any means necessary.
That sounds pretty exciting, right?
Well, the second half where Harris and Mo are traveling to Kandahar is for the most part. The journey leads to some exciting action beats and the jolt of adrenaline the trailers promise.
That first hour though? A total slog of exposition, characters, agendas and boredom. I am not sure what was worse: the immense number of players introduced, or the fact that they all kind of blend together with no discernable traits or dimensionality. They all have their part to play in the new Afghanistan or in the CIA war room where they watch everything go down from one of those terrifying satellites that can pinpoint exactly where you are in the world with laser like precision. Ali Fazal (who popped up in Furious 7 and Death on the Nile) gets a bit of additional emphasis over the other supporting characters – mostly because he’s a fearless bad ass to all the guys watching and gorgeous eye candy for the girls they dragged with them – but that is about it. There is a kidnapped journalist subplot buried in there too. Beyond being the catalyst for Harris’ identity being exposed however, not much is done with it.
Negahban does well for himself here as Mo, bringing some much-needed humanity into the proceedings. Sadly his key subplot and motivation goes completely unresolved. Faizal gets to have a bit of fun, and Travis Fimmel (who played the lead in Warcraft and was a key player on the Vikings TV series) gets to have a few standout scenes. They are only slightly overshadowed by Butler, who wears the trauma and emotional cost of multiple tours in Afghanistan on his tired face. He has a family, but he is a soldier first. He is battle hardened and unlike many of Butler’s other action roles, does not have much time for one-liners and levity. Rather, he is stoic, deadly serious and singular minded. Butler’s portrayal works in medium-sized doses, yet feels undercooked despite being the one character with the most development. I expected more from him.
Mission Kandahar is not an awful picture by any means. It looks great, has some fun action beats, and a few notable supporting performances. If you can get through that glacial first half, you should be entertained by what comes afterwards. Just keep your expectations low and keep it on deck as a rainy day movie, rather than a movie you need to see immediately.
Mission Kandahar is in theatres now, and will arrive
on Digital and On-Demand services later this summer.