If you have an international problem that you want solved—while keeping things on the down low—you turn to Tom Harris. He’s the kind of CIA black-ops agent who reconnoiters, plans and always follows through on a given mission with precision.
Of course, that kind of skilled delivery creates its own problems. It means he’s in demand. Constant travel to points unknown pretty much ruined his marriage. And it’s taking its toll on Tom’s relationship with his young daughter, too. She’s about to graduate from high school, and his ex-wife has already warned Tom that he better not miss the event.
He doesn’t plan to. I mean, if there’s anyone who makes Tom take a step back, it’s his ex.
After running point on a mission that leaves the Iranian nuclear program in shambles, Tom wraps things up and heads to the airport. But on a layover in Dubai, Tom’s next flight is cancelled. Oh, and he gets a call from an operative friend, Roman, who just might have had something to do with that cancellation.
Seems Roman wants his dependable bud to help out with a hugely important, but very brief, project. It shouldn’t take a guy like Tom more than a few days to see it through. Then Tom can head off to his daughter’s graduation. Roman even promises to sweeten the deal with a few stacks of cash. Hey, why shouldn’t CIA good guys pick up a little college-fund cash for their kids when they can?
Tom agrees to help. And he heads off to Afghanistan to meet the interpreter Roman’s set up there and to get things a hoppin’.
What Tom isn’t aware of, however, is that the Supreme Leader of Iran is still pretty angry after the explosive outcome of Tom’s recent nuclear-facility sabotage operation. The leader looks weak. He looks powerless. And supreme leaders don’t like that look. Especially when it’s at the hands of the Great Satan: America.
So Iranian officer Farzad Asadi has been given his orders. He’s put every bit of Iranian intelligence into the problem, kidnapped and tortured a local reporter, revealed American Pentagon sources. And now he’s honing in on a CIA operative named Tom Harris. In fact, every terrorist militant and thug in the Middle East is drooling over the price that’s been slapped on Tom’s head. When Tom lands in Afghanistan, he’s thinking about his daughter’s next step in life. But he needs to be worrying about his own.
In the short, intense and frenetic time that Tom and his local interpreter, Mo, have together, they form a friendship. Mo, his friends and his family members have all suffered because of American actions, but he still gives his trust to Tom. The two men put their lives on the line for one another. After realizing that he has placed Tom in a dangerous situation, Roman rallies reinforcements to help him and Mo.
Mo (who has become a citizen of the US) asks a female acquaintance to leave Afghanistan and travel to America. But she refuses to do so, rather declaring that she will stay to fight for the hard-won freedoms that Afghani women briefly enjoyed.
In fact, one of the reasons that Mo returned to Afghanistan for the interpreting job was to help find his wife’s missing sister. Tom promises Mo that no matter what happens, he will help him find the missing woman.
Kandahar clearly tries to depict Islam in a positive light. We see several different men kneeling to pray. One talks about studying the lessons of the Quran. Roman holds up his prayer beads at one point and declares that the religion has helped him find peace.
Mo, who is also a Muslim, comes face to face with a duplicitous man who killed his son years before. And though it’s obvious that he’s still filled with grief and anger, he tells the man, “God may not forgive your sins, but I do.”
A Muslim man is shot near the end of the film; the camera watches him as he dies and declares, “There is no god except Allah … Mohammed is the messenger of Allah … the gentle … the merciful … the kind.”
We see a foreign agent in bed with a woman. They’re apparently unclothed, but they’re strategically covered by a sheer sheet.
This is a war film, so there’s an abundance of violence on tap in one form or another. Near the beginning, an underground nuclear facility explodes, killing seemingly hundreds and leaving the area smoking and on fire. During various chase scenes, vehicles are smashed, detonated and riddled with high-caliber weapons. Two large groups of military vehicles are decimated by explosive ordnance.
A truck flips end over end after being hit with an RPG shell.
Tom, Mo and others engage in a shoot-out with a helicopter in the dead of night. Several men get picked off thanks to infrared technology. The helicopter eventually crashes and burns on the ground.
We see lots of up close and personal deaths. Men are shot by automatic weapons, rifles and hand guns. Blood spatters the walls and vehicle windows. We see a couple of men executed with shots to the head. After an explosion in a public square, the bloodied bodies of the dead are scattered on the ground.
Two men run at each other while shooting pistols. One is shot in the side and leg. The other is hit in the neck, and we watch as he struggles to staunch the spurting blood.
A female reporter is manhandled, bound and dragged off. Later after what appears to have been torture, she is questioned.
We see victims hanging by their necks from a crane. Tom and Mo are badly wounded and bloodied, including bloody wounds on their bodies and tears and scrapes on their faces.
There are a dozen uses of the f-word and a handful of s-words in the movie’s dialogue, along with a use or two each of “b–ch” and “a–hole.” Jesus’ name is profaned once.
At several different points, people drink beer, wine, champagne, mixed drinks and glasses of hard alcohol. Tom sips from a flask.
We see people smoking cigarettes, and one man smokes a cigar.
The film repeatedly points to the failings of the United States government. Nearly everyone decries America’s choices as manipulative, destructive and foul. Even Tom notes the hardships that anyone in the Middle East suffers if they help the U.S. In fact, the only American operatives, beside Tom, who seem to have any shred of honor are the ones who have immersed themselves in other cultures and other faiths in the Middle East.
Generally, when you seek out a good war movie, you look for intense action, a worthy cause to believe in and some good guys to cheer for. And that’s, well, sorta, kinda, almost what you get with Kandahar.
CIA operative Tom Harris and his beleaguered interpreter are caught behind Middle Eastern battle lines. They’re trying to help each other back to safety while various factions of bloodthirsty terrorists and killers seek their heads.
The problem is, the filmmakers have a whole cargo van full of geopolitical and human-rights abuse bones to pick here. And so they’ve painted America as a decidedly evil force in the world. Because of that worldview, it’s rather difficult to “cheer” for anything that’s going on here.
Instead, we’re left with a brutal barrage of formulaic ducking, running, bloodletting and foul screaming amid whizzing bullets and explosions. Kandahar’s action will probably keep you from falling asleep. But you may end up feeling a little grimy by the time the credits roll.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.