Well, I’d say this film was right in Gerald Butler’s wheelhouse. Teaming with Ric Roman Waugh for the third time of his career (it’s worth noting that two additional partners are already planned in the form of sequels for both the Has Fallen franchise and Greenland 2), Butler plays a undercover CIA agent who finds himself on the run and hunted. With only one ally, he has a little more than a day to traverse dangerous terrain while trying to stay one step ahead of those who hunt him. So while the concept of this film is not really original, the film does make up for the lack of originality by providing a adrenaline-filled experience with a healthy does of suspense. Joining Butler are Vikings’ Travis Fimmel and Navid Negahban, both of whom provide excellent backup to Butler.
Butler plays Tom Harris, a freelance operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Following a successful mission in Iran in which he inserted malware into an Iranian nuclear research facility causing the facility to self destruct, Tom expects to take some time to make up for the periods of absence and neglect that resulted in his divorce and strained his relationship with his daughter. However, Tom is approached by his handler with another mission, essentially conducting a similar operation, this time in Afghanistan. Let’s pause here for a moment. Given the high-profile nature of the operation that the character has just conducted, it was a bit difficult to swallow the idea that he would be immediately approached to be put back into the field again. The risk factor, in my opinion, would be too great. However, I suppose you could get around this given the likelihood that few people have the skill set that the character possesses. My reservations aside, this actual plays in the film’s favor, as it provides a means further the point and give it authenticity, particularly with what follows.
Simultaneously to Tom going back into the field, the Iranian government has been monitoring a British journalist in Iran. When she receives evidence of the CIA’s involvement in the ongoing sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, she is arrested by an Iranian security agency. She tells the Iranians she suspects a link between the facility’s destruction and the Swiss contractor because their contracts are next to government sites. This leads to the blowing of Tom’s cover. Let’s pause again. Remember my reservations regarding putting an operative back into the field so quickly? This is exactly the scenario that I’d envisioned that gave me pause. To my mind, this is where the film took a weakness and turned it into a strength. By presenting this unlikely scenario that is full of risk, it essentially introduces the situation that ramps up the suspense. For me that was impressive storytelling, as it took my doubts and brought them to the forefront, showing a great deal of situational awareness.
With his life now in danger, Tom is forced to rely on Mohammad “Mo” Doud, a translator he hired for his current mission to aid him with his escape, all while being hunted by the Iranian security agency, as well as a Pakistani agent hoping to capture Tom on behalf on his country. From here on out, the film gets a bit over-the-top in the action department while also remaining completely plausible, which when you think about it is also impressive. Let me give you an example. During one sequence, Butler essentially fights off a whole strike team armed to the teeth in a rotary wing aircraft, and he does this predominantly with an AK-47. Far-fetched in theory, but when you see it depicted, it is difficult to argue with its plausibility.
The film also has another interesting layer. Trust is a recurring theme in the film, particularly who to trust. There are several characters whose motives aren’t always clear. Take the handler as an example. At a certain point, circumstances cast him in a unflattering light and his loyalty gets called into question. There is also another ally who may or may not prove themselves untrustworthy. Then there are two main characters who serve as the focal point of the film. On Butler’s side, it would be near impossible to put your faith in a man that you just met. Flipside of the coin: Negahban’s character knows that Butler’s character isn’t telling him everything. This creates a rift and a stalemate between the characters, as they have every reason not to trust one another, and yet they have to trust each other if they are going to have any hope of surviving. That tension gives the film depth and makes the suspense all the more palpable.
Going back to the action sequences, these were well done, but of course I’d expect nothing less from someone who has spent their lives as a stunt performer in several prominent films such as Hard Target, The Crow, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Lethal Weapon 2. With the technical know-how, Waugh gives a thrilling, reality-based experience that had me not wanting to miss a second.
Kandahar was an experience. Not the most original concept for a film I’ve seen, but as I said, it makes up for that with action sequences that play right into the wheelhouse of Butler. And while we’ve come to expect these types of films from the actor, they are no less thrilling; hence we keep coming back for more. Or at least why I keep coming back for more, which I expect to do when these two partner up again for the next installment of the Has Fallen franchise.