Sunday, May 19, 2024

“THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE”

THE STORY – Based in part on real historical events, the film’s storyline is about Special Operations Executive, a covert British World War II organization formed in 1940 at the instigation of Prime Minister Winston Churchill for conducting espionage and sabotage in Nazi-occupied Europe. SOE operations contributed significantly to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany and were forerunners of modern-day black operations and irregular warfare.

THE CAST – Henry Cavill, Eiza González, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Babs Olusanmokun, Henrique Zaga, Til Schweiger, Henry Golding & Cary Elwes

THE TEAM – Guy Ritchie (Director/Writer), Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson & Arash Amel (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 120 Minutes


Boy, oh boy, Guy Ritchie has just been cranking them out lately, huh? From 2015 until now, he has released one film every two years, with two released last year “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” and “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” and now he’s back again with “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” After spending some time trying to pump out major blockbusters for various studios with films such as “Sherlock Holmes” and “Aladdin,” Ritchie has returned more to his roots in recent years, falling back on the slick and suave world of English crime, taking place during various time periods. And here, with “The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” he tackles World War II. While his latest explosive film may be based on the 2014 book “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII” by Damien Lewis, which pulls its story directly from historical events, there’s enough injected Guy Ritchie-isms to make this fit right in his wheelhouse as yet another effortlessly cool, irreverent action film meant to entertain deliriously and nothing more.

With the war currently in the Germans’ favor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed off on the Special Operations Executive, a confidential organization of soldiers with various skills, specifically sabotage and espionage within Nazi-occupied Europe. Led by Gus March-Phillipps (Henry Cavill), their contributions significantly turned the tide in the war toward the Allies and gave rise to modern-day black operations and irregular warfare. Their first mission, as depicted in the film, was to infiltrate the neutral Nazi-occupied island of Fernando Po off the coast of West Africa and destroy all enemy German and Italian ships in the harbor. Accompanied by the hulking Danish soldier who prefers to use a bow and arrow, Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson), Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and more, the team are aided by actress and spy Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González) who alongside casino manager Mr. Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) try to seduce, trick and distract the high ranking Nazi Officer on the island Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger) from what the Ministry is planning.

With a Western-inspired score and a group of badass personalities who are efficient in killing Nazis, the comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” are unavoidable. Unfortunately, while Ritchie creates a breezy, enjoyable tone throughout, his WWII action film is missing that film’s nuance, a flair for creating memorable characters, and, most importantly, creating tension. How the Ministry slaughters Nazis with silenced guns, bows and arrows, explosives, knives, and machine gun fire is deprived of any and all stakes resulting in an inconsequential experience that is high on the body count but low on emotional investment. We never get a chance to understand who these characters are entirely, nor do we spend enough time on their relationships with one another. They simply show up, look pretty and mow down Nazis like it’s a walk in the park with little to no effort. The closest the movie ever comes to establishing any dramatic stakes is in Mr. Heron and Marjorie Stewart’s deception of Officer Heinrich Luhr (played by another “Inglourious Basterds” alum) and how he might be growing suspicious of their actions. Otherwise, it’s non-stop mayhem from the Ministry, with Cary Elwes (playing Major-General Sir Colin McVean Gubbins) providing intel and covering for them back home from the higher office, as their mission must be kept secret at all costs.

Ritchie impressively stages the carnage and mayhem early on, especially in one scene where the Ministry needs to break out Pettyfer’s Appleyard from a secured Nazi base camp. Still, when the climatic scene occurs as the island’s entire Nazi forces are locked in a warehouse in the evening, it’s a bit of a letdown, considering how visually bland it comes across compared to all that came before. “The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare” may be Ritchie’s most violent film to date, but also his most inconsequential as the film’s upbeat tone never wavers. In an era where fascism is on the rise again, there’s nothing wrong with a movie that gleefully displays beautiful men (and lady) massacring Nazis in mass, but to do so without any stakes or dramatic tension and with little character development feels like a missed opportunity for Ritchie and his likable cast to create something unique with an enduring legacy that pays respectful homage to these brave men and woman. Instead, what’s presented feels like wish fulfillment fantasy, ignoring the seriousness of the mission, the war, and the dangers of fascism, boiling it all down to its bare essentials.

Considering the story’s actual historical events, one wonders how much mileage the studio would be able to get out of this group of (almost super) heroes in another adventure. Author Ian Fleming (played by Freddie Fox) was even part of the operation, which inspired many of his famous character James Bond’s missions. While “The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare” may not have the longevity of that series, the cast is charming enough, and the action so over-the-top in its amusement that with a little bit more suspense and character development, a sequel could vastly improve upon this.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A charming cast of good-looking people brutally murdering Nazis effortlessly. Guy Ritchie is right in his wheelhouse delivering a suave, slick and fun film.

THE BAD - There's very little else here other than the bloodthirsty entertainment the film's amusing premise presents. No tension, no character development. Feels like "Inglourious Basterds"-lite.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Matt Neglia
Matt Negliahttps://nextbestpicture.com/
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A charming cast of good-looking people brutally murdering Nazis effortlessly. Guy Ritchie is right in his wheelhouse delivering a suave, slick and fun film.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>There's very little else here other than the bloodthirsty entertainment the film's amusing premise presents. No tension, no character development. Feels like "Inglourious Basterds"-lite.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE"