The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (R) ★★½

Review Date: April 19th, 2024

In his famous 1944 speech to the Third Army, General George S. Patton said the following: "The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Shoot them in the belly." I don't know whether director Guy Ritchie thought of those words when putting the final touches on his re-write of the screenplay for The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, but he might as well have. Because, although the film, allegedly based on a true story, is about espionage and sabotage, it is first and foremost about killing Nazis...and doing so in the bloodiest, most violent manner possible. Oh, it doesn't rise to the level of Sisu in terms of sheer exuberance but it comes close at times.

Like many recent Ritchie movies, this one has a lot of frenetic action, a fair amount of spectacle, some cheeky dialogue, and a hefty dose of machismo. A lot of the Ritchie trademarks have been subdued since the days of his early, raw movies but many still exist in one form or another. He still can't write female characters and love stories reside outside his forte. (To wit - two of the real-life inspirations for characters in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare were married shortly after the events of this film. Yet, in the movie, only the feeblest sparks are generated between them.)

There's quite a bit of Bond to be found for anyone looking. Prime Minister Churchill is played by Rory Kinnear, who appeared in a number of the Daniel Craig series entries. Henry Cavill, the current "unofficial James Bond" (meaning that he'll probably never actually play 007 but is often cast as a stand-in of sorts - see Argylle for an example), portrays team leader Gus March-Phillips. And one of the British intelligence officers is a young Ian Fleming (Freddy Fox), who allegedly used March-Phillips as a model for Bond. Having said all that, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare doesn't seem much like a Bond movie - it's more like a fusion of The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone with all the good bits taken out.

Although there is a historical basis for the movie, it's best to regard it purely as a bit of fiction since Ritchie takes wild liberties with the facts. This has the phrase Tall Tale written all over it. The story involves the formation of a super-secret special ops team answerable directly to Churchill. Only the Prime Minister and the two officers running the operation - Brigadier Gubbins a.k.a. "M" (Cary Elwes) and Fleming - know about it. The operatives are a combination of current spies, disgraced soldiers, and various other rogues: March-Phillips; his previous comrade-in-arms, Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer); his current protégé, Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin); hulky strongman Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson); and explosives expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding). They are supported on the island of Fernando Po by agents Marjorie Stewart (Eiza Gonzalez) and Frederich Heron (Babs Olusanmokun). Their mission, should they choose to accept it (which, of course, they do - otherwise there wouldn't be a movie): disrupt U-Boat operations by destroying the supply ship and the two associated tugs. To do this mandates that Marjorie seduce the sneering Big Bad Guy Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger, acting like he got lost on his way to appearing in Raiders of the Lost Ark) while the others engage in a lot of shooting and blowing things up.

Those who enjoy solid World War II movies and/or espionage thrillers are out of luck. But The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is entertaining in a comic book sort of way. The plot is minimal and there's little in the way of suspense, but everything moves along briskly. This is one of those movies where all the characters (including, but not limited to, a former Superman) have a degree of invulnerability. Four men against 50 Nazis? No problem. The narrative, which initially seems a lot more complicated than it ultimately is, is little more than a device to allow Ritchie to have fun with the hardware. The actors enjoy chewing on their lines, chomping on cigars, and shooting guns. It's all in good fun, if a little shallow. And, when one considers the people involved, both in front of and behind the camera, expectations of what to expect are largely met.

© 2024 James Berardinelli