‘We are leaving these places in ruins’: How ‘Kandahar”s white lens reflects the human price tag

“Kandahar” transports viewers to the heat of the Middle East as CIA agent Tom Harris (Gerard Butler) is first seen sabotaging an Iranian nuclear facility. Roman (Travis Fimmel) wants Tom to take on a second, more dangerous mission and pairs him with Mohammed (Navid Negahban), a translator. However, Tom’s cover is blown when Luna (Nina Toussaint-White), a journalist, covers the story. Suddenly Luna’s life is in danger and Kahil (Ali Fazal), who works for the Pakistani secret service Inter-Services Intelligence, wants revenge.

Director Ric Roman Waugh takes a slow-paced approach to this efficient thriller, saving most of his kinetic action scenes for the second half – after all the chess pieces are in place. Since Tom is determined to get home and bring Mohammed to safety as well, they must travel from Herat to Kandahar with Kahil and others hot on his heels.

Kandahar marks the third (and best) collaboration between Waugh and actor Gerard Butler, who previously worked on Angel Has Fallen and Greenland. While politics don’t overwhelm the story, there are double and possibly triple conflicts as Tom and Mohammed encounter shady characters like Ismail (Ray Haratian), a warlord.

Waugh keeps the action captivating while Tom engages in various chases and gunfights, with a night vision shot being particularly exciting. The filmmaker spoke to Salon about his new thriller.

Given that you’ve directed several action films, what was your approach to “Kandahar” which features different storylines, locations and action sequences?

My main mantra as a filmmaker is that I try never to make one character the antagonist. In this case, it is a region that has been mired in a cycle of violence for centuries. How do you find the humanity in that? How do you manage to cheer for people you never thought you would cheer for? And do you have compassion when they die? When I read the script, I knew that in this film you had to feel everyone’s death. It must mean something. Whether the Taliban are after them or other people who are doing their job and should be going back to their families, they won’t be doing it anymore. It was about really preserving that humanity, and I loved the “Rashomon” perspective of this material, which allows us to explore all of those people and storylines. The difficult thing was not to delve too deeply into the complexity of the region.

What can you say about the creation of the action set pieces, such as the night vision sequence?

It started with my first mandate. I’m not going to make this look dirty, dusty, and desaturated. I wanted to show the beauty of the region. We brought the caramels and I wanted to use primary colors. The women of Herat wear blue burqas. When the Russians invaded, they brought this weird blue stuff with them, and it’s been that way ever since [burkas] were blue; Black is still used in other regions. It’s black in the desert at night. Knowing what’s going on with modern technology, they don’t use the normal night vision, the “green” one that Iranians use, but the new delta force operators, the new CIA and the new MI6, now use fusion technology and it combines infrared with heat. You can change the color patterns. When I found out that you can do it in black and white and you can see the desert at night, I thought I’ll make it look like Ansel Adams shot it here. I wanted to show the beauty of the region at night.

This is your third collaboration with Gerard Butler. What are your observations on working with him and building a film around him as a hero?

We’ve known each other a long time. I reinvented his Fallen franchise in a new way. I take the action hero and give him humanity and flaws. The comic book movie heroes are 10 feet tall, bulletproof and insensitive to pain. If you look back at the heroes in the movies of the ’70s and ’50s, they were flawed individuals and understandable, real people. That was the fun part of Angel Has Fallen – this guy who worries about hanging up his gun, confronting real problems and struggling with his own mortality. Gerry isn’t afraid to be sensitive, vulnerable, and express himself in three dimensions. In “Greenland” we took the action hero with us. He was an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. He had no special skills and had to do everything to his heart’s content.

When I read Mitchell LaFortune’s screenplay for Kandahar, I turned the pages. It showed the humanity of the Middle East in several countries and the vicious cycle of violence that was unfolding. Gerry was the first person I thought of and I was able to make him a man of action but never an action hero – even though he had special abilities. We made it authentic and grounded. It was inspired by true events.

The irony was that we originally prepared it before the US left Afghanistan. We have been to Saudi Arabia and the Delta COVID variant has closed the borders. Then there was a retreat, so we rewrote the film to show not only the suffering of the region, but also the warriors who fought for 20 years. What was all that for? We wanted to bring empathy and that all is lost feeling and atonement to it all. The scene we always kept was one with these two men fighting a helicopter right now in the middle of the desert. They cope with the fact that none of them really know their own families better than they do about the war. How much they have in common despite coming from completely opposite places.

What did you know about the Middle East and Black Ops before you started working on this film?

It starts with Mitchell LaFortune. He was in the DIA, that is [military] Intelligence. He lived in Herat for several years. Then it was expanded to understand his experiences there with different factions. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but the more time I spent in Saudi Arabia, the more I felt like a journalist. I felt like there was a way to absorb this place and be this outsider who isn’t desensitized and doesn’t take things for granted. I paid attention to every detail. It was loud. You hear the call to prayer five times a day, there is massive traffic noise and within a few weeks you completely get used to it. Tom often sat on a roof and this kind of noise and noise was normal for him.

But it was fun to project the clash between the ultra-conservative movement and the fledgling progressive movement in Saudi Arabia onto Ali Fazal’s character, Kahil, who reports to a man who runs the ISI, the CIA in Pakistan. Be [boss] is a conservative, devout man who performs his prayers and does not live in sin by smoking e-cigarettes. Then Khalil is seen meeting with the Taliban, taking off his turban, putting on the Gucci glasses, vaping and getting into a Range Rover with hip-hop. This happened around me.

KandaharAli Fazal as Kahil Nazir in “Kandahar” (Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

I found Kahil to be an interesting contrast to Tom. I really liked a sequence in which the two can be seen
“meet.” How did you work with Ali Fazal on his role?

We wanted Kahil to be the reflection of Tom, someone who lives in isolation, doesn’t know his family and is war addicted. his counterpart [Kahil]He has to live the same way, but he doesn’t want to do that anymore. He’s trying to find a way out. Kahil is on Tinder trying to find love because there’s nothing else in his life other than suddenly getting back on the hunt. We wanted the hunter and the hunted to be mirrors, but also specific to each man’s culture – not overly westernize Kahil, but show how a young Pakistani would be compared to a man like Tom from our western world.

For Tom, too, Mohammed is a kind of mirror. He is a moral center of the film and sensitive. How did you portray his character?

There was a lot more of Muhammad’s character I wanted to show – here’s a man who fought a country and now has a direct hit on his back. He lives as a refugee in America. It resembles the way of life of Afghans, Iraqis and other people born out of conflict [abroad.] He’s trying to get his country back. The film was about Muhammad’s return to find a loved one. He makes this barter with the devil to complete one last mission so he can return under an alias and find his loved ones. But he looks at a country where there is no more hope. I would have liked to have taken another 10-15 minutes to learn more about who he was.

Want a daily roundup of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter Crash Course.

What do you think of Kandahar being a story told through a white lens – both you as the filmmaker and Tom as the character?

It is what it is. We’ve been living with this layer for 20 years. I think it was important to show that Tom understands the responsibility for this. When he says, “We’ll come to your country and tell you what to do and how to behave, and then we’ll leave you in ruins,” that was an important statement of how we’ve been referring to this one since Vietnam Taking police action and trying to do greater good and defeat bad people, but we’re leaving these places in ruins. Are we leaving ourselves in ruin? It was important to take this perspective from the point of view of a western character invading and complicit in these lands. Yes, that’s a privilege, but there’s also an important message we need to be aware of and the human cost. Check out what’s going on in Ukraine right now. This film speaks of the devastation war wreaks not only on a physical level but also on a spiritual one, at the human cost and sacrifice of the families behind it.

To what extent is your film political? Can people interpret “Kandahar” as chauvinistic?

I hope not. I don’t want to be Robert Redford and I don’t want to be Oliver Stone. I don’t want to express my opinion in any film. If there is politics in it, then politics is real. The Pakistanis are dealing with the Taliban. But I have no intention of giving you my opinion or telling you how to fix the problem. That’s never my job.

Kandahar hits theaters nationwide on May 26th.

Continue reading

Film interviews by Gary Kramer

Tom Vazquez

Tom Vazquez is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Tom Vazquez joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Tom Vazquez by emailing tomvazquez@ustimetoday.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button