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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Film review

A man stands on the deck of a ship holding a copper cup in the film The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare has plenty of wow factors, but ultimately gets derailed by a convoluted plot.

Director: Guy Ritchie
Genre: Action / War Drama
Run Time: 120′
Release Date: April 19, 2024
Where to watch: Globally in theaters

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare had the potential of being a great action blockbuster. With established director Guy Ritchie at the wheel (coming off the buzz of his well received Netflix series, The Gentlemen), a plethora of stars that range from up and coming to veterans of the action genre and a outrageous, yet true, story putting our main characters in the midst of World War II.

There are certain aspects in which the film does deliver; when it’s at its best, it’s a gory, brutal action thriller with laugh out loud funny one liners. For the most part, however, it’s a movie that has far too much plot and far too little character development. 

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is based off of true events that are depicted in the 2014 novel “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII” by Damien Lewis. The story follows a secret group of highly skilled and meticulously picked soldiers sent on a mission by Sir Winston Churchill himself to permanently disrupt the power of the German Navy through neutralizing their U-boats. This mission lead to the development of modern black operations, or clandestine government operations, through irregular means of warfare. 

At the helm of this string of recruits is Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill, of The Witcher), commanding an army of men that will follow him to the depths of any ocean and through the heat of any fire. These men are motivated by rage and the opportunity to cause destruction with little to no care if they survive the mission or not. As Gus and his team work on the sea-front, trying to complete their mission, the British military has two agents on the ground: Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González, of I Care A Lot) and Heron (Babs Olusanmokun), working on ensuring the men entering through the water can carry out their operation successfully. 

Gus’s team is stacked with some heavy hitters. Cavill himself is a titan of the action genre and fits seamlessly into the Guy Ritchie world where all good guys can’t help but be a little bad. He plays Gus with an effervescent air, a suaveness and a humorous brutality. Alan Ritchson (Ordinary Angels) steals the show with his ostentatious Anders Lassen, riddled by violent tendencies and adorned with some of the most toned biceps you will ever see. Ritchson brings a humor to Anders that makes you wish he had more screen time as he truly gives the film the burst of energy it needs. Newcomer Hero Fiennes Tiffin plays the reserved, yet calculating Henry Hayes and Henry Golding (Monsoon) is as charming as ever as Freddy Alvarez. 

Four men sit on a boat looking at the camera in the film The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (Daniel Smith / Lionsgate)

The film is at its best when it lets this pack of misfits do what they do best: pillage Nazi operations and burn them to the ground. The action never feels stale and the humor used in these moments truly shows how funny these actors can be when given the opportunity to shine. If there are two things Ritchie understands, it’s charm and action. When the film tries to dig deeper, however, it begins to lose its focus completely. 

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare cannot seem to make up its mind about what kind of film it wants to be. Through its first half, you’d think you were watching Ritchie’s version of Inglorious Basterds; towards the end, it reads more like his interpretation of The Usual Suspects. Either way, it doesn’t quite stand on its own two feet in light of how referential the film is. There are also wildly aggressive shifts in tone throughout the film. One minute, when the film is doing its best, it’s a gory action thriller that has the audience cheering for these cool yet animalistic soldiers. The next it’s trying far too hard to become introspective without actually putting in any of the work to make the film a meaningful analysis of this portion of WWII history. 

The most frustrating part, however, is how little the audience learns about the characters at the center of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Everything we know about the men in Gus’s crew and the other British agents working with his team on land is told to the audience in a brief overview by Gus at the beginning of the film and never expanded upon later on in the film in any form. There is definitely a point to be made about the anonymity of these men and how they moved in the shadows of the war they could be any one, but if that is the point the film is trying to make, it does not do so well.

What it feels like by the end of the watch is that you do not really know anything meaningful about these soldiers. They also have this incredulously forced dialogue and insides jokes towards the end of the film in an attempt to cover up the fact they are just as close to one another as they were when they first met because there has been absolutely no character development throughout the entire film. It’s almost infuriating how little we know about these men we just spent two hours with on the screen. 

While it is clear González and Olusanmokun are trying to keep their portion of the plot relevant to the rest of the story thorough some solid performances, so much of their screentime is ruined by how convoluted the plot gets by the time we really get to know their characters. The entire middle position of the film falls flat as the breaks between action are very long and occur very often. If this was billed as a regular war film, this would be no issue, but this being a action-war thriller makes you realize how little the film lives up to the genre it’s categorized under. 

Its unfortunate how lopsided The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare feels. The opening sequence seems to promise a film chalked full of cool and extraordinarily laissez-faire men who move through this violent world with a complete ease fighting against the evil Nazi regime. Instead, the bursts of action are too few and far between to keep the attention of the audience as the film looses itself in the ginormous amount of plot it develops, just to lazily wrap it all up in one happy ending. Some really brilliant performances are outshined by the various directions the film goes in, but refuses to settle on, which really is a shame. 

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare will be released globally in theaters on April 19, 2024.

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