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Movie Review: ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’

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'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare' opens in theaters on April 19th.

‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ opens in theaters on April 19th. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith.

Opening in theaters on Friday, April 19th, ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ represents the latest genre hop from Guy Ritchie, who has shown remarkable flexibility of late after starting his career with the cockney gangster likes of ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’ before pivoting to movies such as ‘Aladdin’ and his last war pic, ‘The Covenant’.

This new movie certainly sees him channeling the tone of those initial efforts, but while that provides plenty of thrills and chuckles to begin with, midway through it seems to decide that is not worth sticking with and becomes something more like ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (though never reaching the quality levels of that).

Related Article: Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim Talk Making ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant’

Does ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ prove to be a fun mission?

Alan Ritchson in 'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare'.

Alan Ritchson in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Photo: Daniel Smith.

It’s something of a mystery when you have a movie that offers Henry Cavill in particular with the most charismatically entertaining character he’s played in a while (with, unlike in ‘Argylle’, the screentime to fully embrace it) but somehow lose confidence in the jokey tone that is established early on.

True, the subject of war, especially in a real-life context, is one to be taken seriously, but that later gear switch grinds noisily midway through the running time. And yes, there are the real people to be considered (a closing credit sequence includes imagery and potted histories of the personalities after the time of the mission portrayed), but the two tones of the movie simply don’t mesh well enough to make the whole work.

‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’: Script and Direction

Eiza González in 'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare'.

Eiza González in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Photo: Daniel Smith.

Ritchie here adapts Damien Lewis (not the actor, different spelling)’s book with the help of Paul Tamasy and Arash Amel, adding his own particular flare to the story of a group of real-life, under-the-radar heroes helped turned the tide of World War II when things were looking their bleakest for the Allied forces.

But, as we’ve said before in this review, the script’s tone takes a dive somewhere around the point that the mission itself starts to go off the rails. It’s as if the characters shrug off their colorful personalities and adopt much blander, generic war movie archetypes instead. Moments of humor do poke through still, and there are obviously moments where the darker tone requires a more serious approach. The movie, though, doesn’t completely recover.

In the director’s chair, Ritchie certainly brings plenty of his usual style to the proceedings, and he frequently gets the best out of his cast in the early going. The movie also looks good, the budget clearly up on the screen in scenes where the team engages with battleships or enters the port that is their main objective.

Yet he still can’t stop his own movie from turning into something that is far less effective in its final third. As the action ramps up (which has its own ticking clock tension, to be sure), the compelling character work fades and some of the interest starts to wane.

‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’: Performances

Henry Cavill in 'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare'.

Henry Cavill in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Photo: Daniel Smith.

This is most certainly Henry Cavill’s film, and when he’s allowed, he jumps in with both feet. His Gus March-Phillips is a wily, snarky sort, well aware of his reputation even as he’s ready to give his life in service of his country. He’s not above stealing cigars from his superiors or mouthing off to Nazis who are pointing guns at him (and why not?) At full power, he’s the charismatic center of the movie.

But he’s ably supported by the ensemble, especially Alan Ritchson as the hulking Anders Lassen. Right there with Cavill’s character, he’s always ready to enjoy his missions, and dishes out violence like a funnier ‘Reacher’.

Henry Golding has less to do as explosives expert Freddy Alvarez, but he’s handed some fun chunks of scenes, and Golding makes the most of them. Eiza González, meanwhile, has a better character in the early going, but is soon reduced to either being a femme fatale or a damsel in distress.

From the supporting cast, Babs Olusanmokun stands out as the college educated man of letters who has set himself up as king of the mercenaries in the port where the team has to take out U-boat supply chain. It’s a winning performance and Olusanmokun makes it look effortless.

Elsewhere, Til Schweiger is suitably menacing/ridiculous as BDSM-obsessed Nazi commander Heinrich Luhr (one of the characters who feels very Ritchie-fied with his verbal diarrhea) and Cary Elwes is a suitably eyebrow-raising “M”.

‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’: Final Thoughts

Cary Elwes in 'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare'.

Cary Elwes in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Photo: Daniel Smith.

Ritchie’s latest release shows signs of the director warring within himself more than the movie itself is about conflict. It’s as if he started out fully intended to make an engaging romp of an action comedy before a side of him worried about what people would think about the historical accuracy might think.

The result is a compromised effort that rather falls between two stools –– but has enough value to make it worth sticking out. Especially if you like Henry Cavill sticking his tongue out as a he shoots a machine gun.

‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ receives 6.5 out of 10 stars.

“Discover the first special forces mission in history.”

Showtimes & Tickets

Based upon recently declassified files of the British War Department and inspired by true events, THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE is an action-comedy that… Read the Plot

What’s the story of ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’?

Based upon recently declassified files of the British War Department and inspired by true events, ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ is an action-comedy that tells the story of the first-ever special forces organization formed during WWII by U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a small group of military officials including author Ian Fleming.

The top-secret combat unit, composed of a motley crew of rogues and mavericks, goes on a daring mission against the Nazis using entirely unconventional and utterly “ungentlemanly” fighting techniques. Ultimately their audacious approach changed the course of the war and laid the foundation for the British SAS and modern Black Ops warfare.

Who stars in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’?

  • Henry Cavill as Gus March-Phillipps
  • Eiza González as Marjorie Stewart
  • Alan Ritchson as Anders Lassen
  • Henry Golding as Freddy Alvarez
  • Alex Pettyfer as Geoffrey Appleyard
  • Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Henry Hayes
  • Babs Olusanmokun as Mr. Heron
  • Til Schweiger as Heinrich Luhr
  • Henrique Zaga as Captain Binea
  • Cary Elwes as Brigadier Gubbins ‘M’
  • Danny Sapani as Kambili Kalu
  • Freddie Fox as Ian Fleming
Henry Cavill in 'The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare'.

Henry Cavill in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’. Photo: Daniel Smith.

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