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  • Nate Adams

'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare' review: Guy Ritchie’s silly, forgettable WWII romp


Courtesy of Lionsgate

 

Directing his fourth movie since 2021, Guy Ritchie finds himself behind the scenes helming another flick that doesn’t so much care about longevity, but whether or not it can sustain itself as an afternoon cable diversion on TNT. Ritchie hasn’t made a grand slam in at least a decade, through his recent string of moderately budgeted adult/action thrillers (“The Gentleman,” “Wrath of Man,” and “The Covenant”) have been serviceable and found ways to dig into the characters in an engaging way. Enter “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” a stoic, three star picture that never rises above sly camp and sees Ritchie maintain his foothold on movies destined to become cable hits. Say what you want about the filmmaker, at least he’s consistent. 


“Warfare” is a breezy excursion that tells the true story of Operation Postmaster, a covert mission confidentially sanctioned by Winston Churchill to infiltrate a Nazi base and sabotage U-boats near west Africa during world war II. Led by Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) and his crack team of wise-guys: who all harbor deadly skillets that make them perfect for the task. The standout being Alan Ritchson’s Anders Lassen whose abilities with an arrow could make Katniss Everdeen blush. Others include Alex Pettyfer’s Appleyard, Henry Golding’s Freddy Alverez. And Hero Fiennes Tiffin’s Henry Hayes. Don’t go looking for too much characterization as the messy screenplay by Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Ritchie, and Arash Amel, adapting the book of the same name by Damien Lewis, doesn’t give the crew much to sink their teeth into. 


Though the writers may have a foundation for the truth, it's obvious there have been some liberties taken and the premise has been exaggerated into an overblown romp. But Ritchie’s ability to stage a convincing action sequence, especially one revolving around the slaughter of Nazi’s, has enough juice to keep you distracted in the moment even if none of what happens after doesn’t stick. The giddy, nonsensical violence is clearly meant to invoke Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards,” and even goes as far to cast “Bastards” alum Til Schweiger as the primary antagonist, except the stakes never get anywhere close to the genius displayed in that film. 


Instead, Ritchie is perfectly content with delivering what’s essentially a dumber version of that story with plenty of cast hijinx and spastic energy to push it over the finish line. The corny banter never works nor does the camaraderie among the team, but there is a jovial, almost juvenile-esq quality to the proceedings that’s hard to resist. Evident by a sequence where Phillips, who is said to have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s iconic James Bond, gleefully chuckles his way through slaying unsuspecting Nazi’s. Another see’s Lassen ditch the bow and arrow and sling knives through bad guys throats at a rapid pace. 

Through it all, Ritchie maintains a steady hand and keeps the action focused even as the chaos around the characters descends into all types of silly tomfoolery. We always talk about how we need smaller, mid-budget action movies to fill the marquees and keep movie theaters afloat in between all the big tentpoles, and I hope Ritche can still find ways to work around the studio system and add some fluff to the marketplace. There’s a place for movies akin to “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” that aren’t flashy, overly complicated, and know what they're supposed to be. 


Grade: C+


THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE is now playing in theaters.


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