It is my considered belief, supported by many years of arduous viewing, that Guy Ritchie is a highly skilled but superficial-minded hack. I’m not using the term “soulless whore,” but if someone were to accuse Ritchie of same I wouldn’t argue strenuously against this. And yet…

In the view of Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman, The Covenant (MGM, 4.21) is proof that “against all odds, Guy Ritchie has become one of the best directors working.”

This Afghanistan war thriller “isn’t another Ritchie underworld caper,” Gleiberman claims. “He has put his confectionary flamboyance on hold. [For] The Covenant unveils something new: Ritchie the contempo classicist. We’re seeing a born-again filmmaker.

The Covenant is a superbly crafted drama, [and] yet the most eyebrow-raising aspect of the movie, in light of Ritchie’s career, is the bone-deep humanity that animates the story. This is a war film dotted with heroism but dunked in despair.

“As a rescue thriller, it’s tinglingly suspenseful and real. What gives the film its power is the way that its climactic final act grows out of an organic metaphor for the flawed vision of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. We came in with the best of intentions, but got too lost in the quagmire to follow through on our promise to the Afghan people. And so we stranded them.

“In The Covenant, Ritchie tells a story of two men, but he’s really giving this war that never succeeded a kind of closure. He uses the power of movies to coax out the heart that fueled our actions, and that made our loss so hard to bear.”