Kandahar: Is Tom Harris Based On a Real CIA Officer?

‘Kandahar,’ directed by Ric Roman Waugh, is an action thriller movie revolving around a CIA Operative’s escape from hostile Afghanistan deserts. With Gerard Butler as the protagonist, the film follows Tom Harris, who’s instrumental in the CIA’s destruction of Iran’s nuclear reactor. While on his next mission at Herat, Afghanistan, Tom discovers his identity has been leaked, exposing him to numerous enemies hellbent on capturing him and worse.

With a ticking clock, Tom must flee to an old CIA base in Kandahar with his translator Mohammad “Mo” Doud. ‘Kandahar’ focuses on the tumultuous political climate of the Middle East and highlights America’s involvement in the same. Due to the film’s political themes and Tom Harris’ connection to the CIA and the military, viewers might wonder if the character has any basis in reality. If so, here is everything we know about the origin of Tom Harris from ‘Kandahar.’

Is Tom Harris Based on a Real Person?

Tom Harris is partially based on a real person. Written by former army man Mitchell LaFortune, ‘Kandahar’ is based on LaFortune’s experiences during his deployment to Afghanistan. As such, LaFortune’s life experiences, personality traits, and quirks make up the foundation for Tom Harris’s character. “I wanted to tell the story of specifically how vulnerable you are as an American in a foreign combat zone.” The screenplay writer said in a conversation with We Are The Mighty.

LaFortune joined the military in 2006, moved by the 9/11 tragedy and inspired by his grandfather, who was a World War II Veteran. During his military career, LaFortune went on to work in Intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency and served deployments to Afghanistan on the Iran border. Due to the same, LaFortune had first-hand real-life experiences and stories that helped him shape Tom’s character and bring authenticity to his narrative.

LaFortune initially wrapped up his screenplay, which would later become ‘Kandahar,’ in 2016. However, the film didn’t start shooting until 2021, during the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. As such, when LaFortune witnessed the political and social climate of the country drastically change, he decided to make changes to his story accordingly. “I just wanted to focus on the values that we all have, and at the end of the day, half a million veterans served in Afghanistan. Politics don’t matter, it’s about the people, and I personally spent a decade focused on creating a better future for Afghanistan,” said LaFortune.

Therefore, through Tom’s character, LaFortune wanted to bring forth the same sentiment and values while still depicting a heroic tale inspired by his own experiences. By basing Tom on LaFortune’s reality and expanding on the same through powerful socially relevant themes, ‘Kandahar’ infused Tom’s character with a humanity that many viewers would empathize with. At the same time, this film resembles the somewhat controversial spy movie “White Savior” trope through Tom’s character.

Nevertheless, the narrative remains conscious of the same and implements it intentionally and consciously to depict an important real-life issue. When discussing his film’s employment of a “white lens” for its narrative, director Ric Roman Waugh said, “That lens was important to be told from a Western character invading these countries and being complicit in it. Yes, there is a privilege to it, but there is also an important message that we need to own up to and understand the human cost.”

Consequently, Tom’s character and worldview significantly inform the film’s social and moral messaging while reflecting the real-life experiences of countless war veterans. According to a research report, around 1.9 to 3 million service members served in Afghanistan and Iraq, with more than half having served multiple deployments. Many of these veterans return from the war sustaining physical or psychological injuries that acutely change their lives.

Therefore, through Tom and his intrinsic inability to move on from war and violence and leave it behind, ‘Kandahar’ expresses a vulnerable side of war that many veterans will be able to relate to. After LaFortune’s time in the army, he decided to pursue his lifelong passion for storytelling through writing. With ‘Kandahar’ and Tom Harris, he successfully depicted an authentic account of his experiences and values and conveyed a message close to his heart. Ultimately, although some details surrounding Tom’s character and background may not resemble LaFortune perfectly, he’s still fundamentally based on the writer.

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