NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Niki
The movie opens with text that states:
After 9/11, the US sent 10,000 troops to Afghanistan. A decade later, there were almost 100,000 US armed forces there. The armed forces hired translators to help them in exchange for visas for themselves and their families.
On a hot day, Master Sergeant John KINLEY (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team run a checkpoint. Their translator Haadee works with “Jizzy” questioning drivers of vehicles about their contents. One driver becomes angry about the questions. That’s when “Tom Cat” and “JJ” take notice. Kinley orders Haadee and Jizzy to search the back of the truck while “Chow Chow” and “Jack Jack” get into position. The driver is now sweating bullets and bolts in the other direction, and Kinley knows what will happen before it happens.
A bomb detonates.
Kinley and the team mourn Jizzy and Haadee. Kinley must choose another translator. After being highly recommended, Kinley picks Ahmed (Dar Salim). He’s intelligent, quiet, and tenacious. Kinley doesn’t expect any trouble from him. The team sets out to find IEDs.
The next day, the team patrols the streets. They come to a building at the end of the road. Ahmed recognizes the building. He says they will need help finding what they’re looking for. Nevertheless, Kinley continues. A skinny man opens up. He reluctantly lets the team in. It’s just a hookah lounge. There are unconscious bodies and hookah tubes everywhere. Kinley sinks into a nearby chair, defeated.
Another day, the team drives deep into the desert. Intel tells them that the Taliban are building IEDs in this location. A second translator recommends taking a back road since the shorter route is washed out due to recent rains. Kinley approves, and the team heads out. On the way there, Ahmed asks Kinley to reconsider. Kinley pulls the vehicles over. He orders two men to scope out the area from the ridge. While another contacts the eye in the sky. The ridge is clear. There’s no one waiting for Kinley’s team. Kinley turns to confront Ahmed, but he has the second translator to the ground and a gun at his neck.
Kinley aims his gun and orders Ahmed to drop his weapon. Ahmed doesn’t until the second translator confesses that the Taliban has his family. The eye in the sky confirms that Kinley’s team was just moments away from an ambush.
At the base, Kinley learns that Ahmed volunteered to help the US armed forces after the Taliban killed his son. Kinley gains a new perspective on Ahmed but orders him never to disobey his commands again.
Kinley vents his frustration to his superior, Colonel Vokes (Johnny Lee Miller). Vokes can’t officially approve Kinley’s want to move outside official limits, but he doesn’t discourage him from doing so either. Sergeant O’Brady (Alexander Ludwig) witnesses this conversation and gives Kinley what he needs to start. A name.
The team corners the guy, who is a drug dealer. Ahmed doesn’t do a word-for-word translation. Instead, he has a conversation with the guy. Ahmed tosses him some money, but the guy doesn’t budge. He threatens Ahmed’s family and swears to kill them in front of Ahmed. Ahmed reads him carefully and tosses him another wad of cash. Kinley doesn’t like this move. Ahmed finally convinces him to help the team.
The drug dealer gives two locations where the IEDs are being built. That’s the point- there’s not one factory. There are a few to-do parts of the job, then bring it all together in the end.
The team moves out and hits the jackpot in a desert location. Kinley radios in their find and reinforcements are 15 minutes out. Kinley knows the team’s position will only last for a while. They move in.
They find three guys torturing an Afghanistan man, but they are too late to help him. More Taliban men arrive. And it’s a shootout. Eventually, the entire team dies. Kinley and Ahmed can escape in one of the Taliban’s pickup trucks, but they have a dozen guys on their tails. US armed forces arrive and collect the remains of the team.
Kinley and Ahmed’s truck gets a flat tire. They abandon the pickup. And use their position as an advantage. They get further and further into the woods/ mountain area.
Kinley and Ahmed try to return to base, but their radios are out of range. They spend the night in the mountains. The Taliban men phone their boss, and he orders them to bring in Kinley and Ahmed no matter what. Kinley wakes Ahmed. A radio is picking up a signal. It’s the men after them. If they are getting a signal, it means they are close. Kinley and Ahmed double-time it back in the direction of the base. They come across two men in a valley. Without guns, they stab them to death. On another hill, two men use binoculars and miss Kinley and Ahmed. But at the last moment, spot them. They have no choice. They must use the guns. The gunfire echoes through the canyon—the Taliban close in on their location.
They take refuge in a house. Kinley tries to find an escape route, but he is shot in the leg, side of his stomach, and shoulder. Ahmed comes from behind and kills the Taliban. He takes their truck and loads Kinley in the back. Using the main roads, he gets as far as he can. Three Taliban men stop him from the side of the road. Their truck is having problems. They make him give them a ride. One sits in the cab with Ahmed. The other two jump in the back. Kinley remains very still. He’s under blankets and rugs. Which is what Ahmed says his profession is. They cannot have this cover blown.
Ahmed tends to Kinley’s wounds, but it’s only a temporary fix. They travel to another location. Ahmed trades the pickup truck for medicine, food, and a two-wheel wagon.
Ahmed struggles to push Kinley up the mountains in the wagon. It’s challenging and rigorous. Ahmed shields Kinley from the sun with light blankets. Kinley is in and out of consciousness through this time. At night, Kinley wakes in excruciating pain. Ahmed tries to comfort him. The next day, Ahmed makes it to a spot where he can see the base a few miles from his position on the mountaintop.
At a small outdoor shop, Ahmed buys water. But a few Taliban trucks pull up. They notice Ahmed. One man begins to look under the blankets and discovers Kinley. Ahmed quickly takes out Taliban men. After a few moments, US armed forces show up. An exhausted Ahmed is ordered to put his hands up. They cuff him and put him on the ground. He tells them Kinley is in his wagon. The soldier looks and is shocked that Kinley is alive.
Kinley wakes in the hospital. He fades in and out. Next thing he knows, he’s home in Santa Clarita, California. He grills steaks for his wife and kids. There’s a hollowness behind his eyes. He learns that Ahmed and his family had to go underground. They have yet to receive their visas. Kinley calls everyone and anyone to help. He gets nowhere.
He calls. He gets put on hold. He calls and must repeat his requests over and over. After being put on hold for three hours, he begins drinking. His family takes notice. Kinley is told before a visa can be given, there must be a background check. Kinley questions what kind of background check needs to happen for a three-month-old. At his work office, he’s there alone at night and on hold. He begins to drink. Cut to him being disconnected, and he gets angry. It’s just one dead end after another.
In Afghanistan, Ahmed is with his three-month-old baby and wife. He gets a call. The Taliban know his location. His informer tells him to get out using the back door. Wait, there’s a man there. Ahmed’s wife grabs their to-go bag while Ahmed hides behind the door. When the intruder enters, Ahmed kills him from behind. The family escapes out the back just as the Taliban knock down their front door. In the street, Ahmed must blend in with the people. The small family quickly sits at another family’s dinner table, and they play along. After the streets are clear, Ahmed and his family jump into the back of the truck. They make it out safely.
Kinley is offered another solution. Private contractors. His wife offers to take out a second mortgage on the house so Kinley can pay for it. Kinley aggressively asks Col. Vokes to ensure the visas are ready when needed. Vokes warns him that there’s a bounty on his head by the Taliban. But Kinley must do this to have peace.
Kinley says goodbye to his family and flies back to Afghanistan using the alias “Ron K.” He meets the head of the operation. There’s been a change of plans. A UN official is coming into town and must postpone Ron’s op. Kinley refuses. He needs to evacuate Ahmed and the family today like it was planned. Kinley chooses to go alone. They equip him with a truck and gear. There’s a meeting set up with Ahmed’s brother.
The brother does his business without trouble from the Taliban because he supplies them with heroin. The brother gives Kinley a driver to take him to Ahmed’s location.
While driving there, a checkpoint worker forces the driver to show him the back where Kinley is hiding. The man gets too close. Kinley has no choice but to kill him. Kinley and the driver hide the body on the nearby riverbank. A Taliban spy spots them. He calls the boss. He’s able to snap a picture of Kinley. The boss knows it’s Kinley, sends reinforcements, and orders the spy to follow Kinley. They want him dead or alive.
Ahmed works on a pickup truck while his wife tends to the baby at a nearby picnic table. There are a few civilians nearby. Ahmed hears a familiar voice and sees Kinley wearing eyeglasses and a hijab. He has their visas.
They quickly load into the back of the driver’s truck. The driver notices they are being followed. Kinley calls it in. The private contractors send their own reinforcements. The computer guy finishes running a check on “Ron K.” and learns that it’s John Kinley. The head of operations feels bad for prioritizing the UN official now. He requests an “angel,” aka angel of death plane with impressive guns, to Kinley’s location.
The Taliban send more to Kinley’s location. Kinley and Ahmed shoot at the nearest vehicle. They make it crash, blocking the way for the truck behind. They come to a tunnel and must abandon their truck. Kinley orders the truck to block the tunnel to buy time. He plants a grenade that goes off just as the Taliban arrive.
Ahmed and Kinley move to the other side of the tunnel. Secure on this side of the dam, the driver shoots at the Taliban on the other side of the canyon, about a quarter mile away. They return fire. Ahmed and Kinley take fire and take retaliate. Ahmed’s wife protects the baby from inside a shed on the dam. Kinley runs out of ammo. The driver is shot. Ahmed uses the last of his pistol ammo. Just as the Taliban start to come toward Kinley, the angel shows up. Its guns take out every single Taliban member.
Kinley and the Ahmed family are evacuated by helicopter. Then they board a military transport back to the US. Kinley and Ahmed share a look of respect.
Text appears on screen: Since the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, thousands of Afghani interpreters have either been executed for helping the armed forces or are living in hiding from the Taliban.
Covenant: a bond. An agreement.