Kandahar: Is the Movie Based on a Real Life CIA Agent?

‘Kandahar’ is an action thriller film that follows the story of Tom Harris, a CIA agent stationed deep in the heart of Afghanistan. After completing a mission successfully, Tom barely has any time to breathe as he finds out that his identity, as well as intelligence regarding his assignment, has been leaked. Now on the run with his Afghani translator, Tom’s only hope of getting out of Afghanistan alive is to reach an old CIA base in Kandahar, where a plane is waiting for him. But standing in their way to safety is an elite military unit tasked with hunting them down.

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, the film stars Gerard Butler, Navid Neghaban, Ali Fazal, Bhahdor Foladi, Nina Toussaint-White, Vassilis Koukalani, and Mark Arnold in pivotal roles. ‘Kandahar,’ though action-packed, shows a very human side to those who are caught up in the conflict in the Middle East through the relationship between Tom and his translator. But is there any truth behind this relationship? Let’s dive in together and find out!

True Events Shape Film’s War Narrative

Yes, ‘Kandahar’ is based on a true story. The screenplay was written by Mitchell LaFortune, who based the story on his own experiences working for the Defence Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan in 2013. The writer first met the film’s director Ric Roman Waugh while working on ‘Greenland,’ where Waugh was introduced to the story by film producer Basil Iwanyk.

“We did a lot of work on Greenland together, and then it was Basil [Iwanyk] that came up to me — and I knew about Mitch’s history in the military’s DIA, which is the military’s version of the CIA — and he said, ‘Did you ever read his script, Burn Run?’ And I was like, ‘What’s that?’ He goes, ‘Well, it’s kind of based on his own account of his times in the Middle East, but also inspired by true events of a CIA operative that went on the run,’” the director told ScreenRant.

‘Burn Run’ is the title that Mitchell gave to the spec script that he pitched and sold to Thunder Road Pictures in 2016; Basil Iwanyk is the founder of the production company. The writer – who had been part of the 82nd Airborne Division and then the Defence Intelligence Agency – spoke about how his time in Afghanistan influenced the story’s development in conversation with We Are The Mighty. “The movie was definitely pulled from my first and second then last two deployments to Afghanistan where I was on the Iran border,” Mitchell LaFortune said.

The writer added, “I wanted to tell the story of specifically how vulnerable you are as an American in a foreign combat zone. You’re entirely reliant upon one specific individual because they can speak the language and for me, the heart of this movie is the relationship between an operator and his translator, which is something I experienced.” While the premise of ‘Kandahar’ – that of a spy having to escape enemy territory and protect the life of a civilian at the same time – is certainly thrilling, the story itself is about the people, both from the US and the Middle East, who have gone through the horrors of war.

To present the vision accurately and give the story more authenticity, a much more diverse cast of actors was taken on for various roles. “It was exhilarating because we made a very big point that we weren’t going to cast the usual suspects. We weren’t going to cast the two people in Hollywood that played this certain kind of individual, we wanted to find the real thing around the world,” said Waugh about the casting choices.

Waugh further added that a few of the actors also brought their own personal experiences with the war to the film. He revealed that actor Navid Negahban, who essays the character of Mohammad, “He was a child refugee coming out of the Iran-Iraq war out of Tehran, so he knows what this was about, and he knows the regions, how they speak in the regions, so sometimes, he was a big help of finding people that were great discoveries.” Similarly, Najia Khaan, who appears for a very brief scene in ‘Kandahar,’ spoke about the plight of the women in Afghanistan in the film from her own experience as an Afghan refugee.

Holding these human connections together in the film is Gerard Butler, who portrays the role of Tom Harris in ‘Kandahar.’ Butler and Waugh have previously worked together on ‘Angel Has Fallen’ and ‘Greenland’ together. In fact, the actor was Waugh’s first choice to play the lead role in ‘Kandahar.’ “He plays human characters,” the director told Collider. “…He doesn’t have a problem playing vulnerability and being sensitive, being raw emotion, playing into the flaws of mankind to where he becomes relatable to us.”

Waugh further stated, “The way that the ‘70s characters were relatable to us, and even some of the ‘50s characters, Gerry is that of today; he’s a guy that we relate to because he kind of plays it from a very kind of raw point of view.” All of this serves to showcase all the effort and consideration that went into the making of ‘Kandahar’ in such a way that it wouldn’t simply be relegated to an action film. Instead, it tells the true story of the people who have struggled and suffered in the face of insurmountable odds and inexplicable violence and the connections that formed between them throughout it all.

Read More: Where is Kandahar Filmed?