Review: ‘The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare’

Henry Cavill And Alan Ritchson Bring Big Swagger And Bigger Muscles To Guy Ritchie's Over-The-Top WWII Flick

It’s almost laughable when Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare notes “based on a true story”, because we know right from jump that the words “VERY LOOSELY” are missing. Ritchie, who got serious last year with The Covenant, is nevertheless telling a different kind of macho wartime story, this one set at the height of WWII and following an unsanctioned crew of English toughs with great muscles and fabulous facial hair. You won’t learn a lot about the real story behind this group’s actions against the Nazis, but you will have a lot of fun watching them blow stuff up and look good while doing it.

The best part of the film is that it gives Henry Cavill and Alan Ritchson a chance to cut loose. Cavill, who has worked with Ritchie before on The Man from UNCLE, has been buttoned-up for too long, either as Superman or as Geralt in The Witcher. As for Ritchson, the refrigerator-sized actor has been killing it as Jack Reacher, and while he has a certain laconic humor about him, it’s only now that we get to see him add a bit of flash and sizzle. The rest of the cast? Eh, you can kinda take ’em or leave ’em, with the exception of Rory Kinnear’s boisterous, exaggerated take on Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Cavill plays a quite-fictional version of real-life British soldier Gus March-Phillipps, a convict recruited by Churchill to lead what is essentially a suicide mission to sabotage German U-boats, destroy Nazi supply lines, and open up the door to the U.S. joining the war. With an infectious cockiness about him, Cavill bares his teeth (and his tongue), flexes his muscles, and guns down Hitler’s goons with over-the-top zeal. To get a sense of Gus’ devil-may-care attitude, he spends his recruitment swiping items (cigars, lighters, jackets) from his superiors, barely blinking an eye at learning that he is an expendable asset. If Gus and his team are captured they will be disavowed and left to fend for themselves.

Also in that meeting? A slight, quiet fellow (Freddie Fox) who introduces himself as “Fleming. Ian Fleming”, and yes it’s the writer who created James Bond and supposedly based 007 on Gus and his activities. There’s very little about Gus that will remind anyone of Bond, he’s too much of a wild man for that. Ironic considering Cavill has been a rumored contender to play the popular secret agent for years.

Stealing the spotlight from Cavill is Ritchson, however. As hulking Danish madman Anders Lassen, who cracks jokes in a bad accent and slaughters Nazis with graceful ease using anything at his disposal: knives, bows & arrows, his own fists. The duo of Cavill and Ritchson are so massive they could block out the sun, and there’s the sense they are attempting to outdo one another, bringing a palpable, competitive spirit to their outsized performances.

Cavill and Ritchson overshadow their co-stars in more ways than one, which is something when two of those are heartthrobs Henry Golding and Alex Pettyfer. Golding, sporting a thick beard that makes him almost unrecognizable, plays explosives expert Freddy Alvarez, while Pettyfer plays dull strategist Geoffrey Appleyard, who is part of a daring rescue prior to mission start. There’s also Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Irishman Henry Hayes, who is on a similar path of vengeance as Lassen. While they employ brute force, the covert side of the operation is led by Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González) and Heron (Babs Olusanmokun), spies looking to distract Nazi honcho Heinrich Luhr, played by Til Schweiger of Inglorious Basterds fame.

It’s an apt role for Schweiger, because there’s a lot of Quentin Tarantino’s bombastic war film in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Ritchie takes a real story and makes it feel like something ripped out of a comic book, not from the history texts. With an irreverent sense of humor that recalls The Suicide Squad and the spirit of Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, the film is an easy, crowd-pleasing blast, even if the story is pedestrian and slighter than expected. Ritchie struggles to balance the right tone, which is almost always a problem when trying to make a popcorn movie where Nazis are involved. There are moments of levity that undercut the gravity of the situation (the torture and murder of a Black woman by Luhr is glossed over), and vice versa. And I’m not sure the Marjorie and Heron sections, which find her slinking around in glamorous get-ups and him reciting bland info dumps, are worth the breaks in momentum. The film really thrives the more volatile the ride, the more bullets that fly, and the cornier the one-liners. In short, the more ungentlemanly, the better.

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



The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
ungentlemanly-warfare-review-the-ministry-of-ungentlemanly-warfareIt's almost laughable when Guy Ritchie's The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare notes "based on a true story", because we know right from jump that the words "VERY LOOSELY" are missing. Ritchie, who got serious last year with The Covenant, is nevertheless telling a different...