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MOVIE REVIEW: Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ is bombastic, all style and nothing more

It’s a film with a lot of action, a lot of blood and gore and violence. It’s got big explosions and a whole lot of gun fire. But the film just goes through the motions of the mission.

While the movie states that the story is based on true events – taken off from the pages of Winston Churchill’s now-declassified papers and turned into a book by Damien Lewis called ‘Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII’ – Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ must be a heavily fictionalized retelling of these people’s endeavours (a quick search on the Internet reveals that these characters really did exist). Project Postmaster actually did exist, and it involved the secret taskforce that then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill had sent to the Spanish-controlled island of Fernando Po in South Africa to sink a tanker that supplied the Nazi U-Boats that kept the Americans from making it to Europe during World War II. Director and co-writer Guy Ritchie (alongside Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Arash Amel) keeps the story and characterizations thin, and leaves the film as merely the plot points of how the mission may have transpired and did some embellishments to really amplify the violence and action.

Ritchie has a definitive style-over-substance approach to filmmaking, preferring filmmaking techniques that amp up the energy of his films and ensures that things look cool. As stylistic and spectacle-driven his version of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ was or his ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,’ I’ve always found his approach to story as very thin and lightweight. Even his films that I do like ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,’ were cool and fun but there’s nothing about both films that I remember very much of and that sticks.

It’s on this level that ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ operates it. It’s a film with a lot of action, a lot of blood and gore and violence. It’s got big explosions and a whole lot of gun fire. But the film just goes through the motions of the mission. The team, led by Gus March-Phillipps (played by Henry Cavill), must rescue one of their ranks (Geoffrey Appleyard played by Alex Pettyfer) before heading to Fernando Po to sink the Nazi tanker. While they are on their rescue mission, two double agents (played by Eiza Gonzales and Babs Olusanmokun) must ensure the intelligence they received in Fernando Po is legitimate. 

There’s no inner motivation here except that many of the team have a score to settle with the Nazis. There are no real personal goals. It’s all plot, no character development. The film, then, takes us through the mission – the things that go right and the things that go wrong – and tries to wow us with all the brutal fight sequences that have no real consequence for the audience because we have no real invested to the characters.

Sure, Cavill, Pettyfer, Gonzales, and Olusanmokun and the rest of the team that includes Alan Ritchson, Henry Golding, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin are all gorgeous and charming but if their characters are archetypes without anything personal attached to them as characters, it’s hard to create any sort of attachment that makes us want to root for them (aside from the fact that they want to kill Nazis). 


And that’s where I find the film a little difficult to jump along with. Sure, there’s a lot of action since it is an action film but it’s the joy the film gets in all the wanton killing of Nazis. Since the characters don’t have arcs, the film’s only theme is to fight evil with evil. Sure, I’m against battling all forms of fascism and racism and imperialism at every turn but the film sort of takes joy in the killing of the Nazis. It reduces the enemy into a cartoon and thus makes them unreal.

And we are living in a world now where fascism has risen again in some form or another. I’m worried that the film telegraphs that the best way to deal with these fascists is to destroy them in a similar manner as well. Historically, Project Postmaster turned the tides of World War II to the Allies side (that’s not a spoiler unless you know nothing of World History) but its timing in this day and age, without the benefit of nuance can create an unsettling message.

By the end of the film, the characters are who they were when the film began. Without a character arc to hold on to, the fight scenes are explosive but hold no suspense or tension or danger. It’s pretty to look at but it carries no surprises or says nothing new to what we already know.

My Rating:

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is now showing. Check screening times and buy tickets here.

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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Action, Comedy, History, Thriller, War
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