The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare took Guy Ritchie’s predilection for English ‘gentlemen’ from country manor houses to the high seas during World War II. Based on Damien Lewis’s non-fiction bestseller, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a fictional recount of the very real Operation Postmaster. It involved an irregular group of allied soldiers who caused devastation to sabotage Nazi U-Boat activities. It was one of the most decisive operations in winning the war because it allowed America to join and hence enabled it together with other allies to overcome Hitler.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare does not seem out of place among Guy Ritchie’s films in terms of style and humor. However, it lacks the witty lines that make Ritchie’s British movies so enjoyable. This really had everything needed for what could have been one of Ritchie’s great film which would have brought him back to that Snatch level again. But unfortunately, its all-star cast and genuinely amusing action scenes weren’t enough for this movie to overcome its flaws, leaving it rather forgettable like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The audience captured by The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare cannot look away because there are stars everywhere on the screen. Having Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson, Henry Golding, Alex Pettyfer, Eiza González, Cary Elwes, Babs Olusanmokun, Rory Kinnear and Hero Fiennes Tiffin all working collectively on one movie sounds like a blockbuster thing. They’re icons of action but possess skills as well that can give depth and humanity to their respective roles.

However, these characters lack dimension or any depth beyond how they’re portrayed by actors onscreen. Their characters do not stand out uniquely due to an underdeveloped script and hasty editing job done on them. Essentially this revolves around some posh (and one Danish) soldiers on a boat who blow things up and shoot people while wearing plot armor thicker than Henry Cavill’s beard. By the time the credits roll, all this tells you is that they enjoy killing – sometimes.

Everyone’s performances successfully carry out this weak script from beginning to end. In this case, we have seen Superman behave crazier than ever before in his acting life. Once he was the head of SOE (Special Operations Executive), Gus March-Phillips (Cavill) moves around at random. Laughing at SS officer’s joke before shooting him? Check. Telling intelligence officers to “please f*ck off”? Hell yeah Stealing an S.S. Officer’s uniform coat and hat and then putting it on for over half of the film without any reason? Yes.

On the other hand, Alan Ritchson spends most of his time in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare shooting Nazis with a bow and doing a bad Danish accent. Despite being relatively unknown when it comes to action blockbusters, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin holds his own as he plays the reasonable sailor guiding the team through British ships and German submarines.

However, by giving an equal amount of attention to each character, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare loses their visibility instead . With such an extraordinary cast at their disposal Ritchie finds himself in a position where he must balance how much screen time each character gets so that they become memorable to viewers. Roles such as Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), the team’s pyromaniac seem underused as if they were hardly there at all.

. Besides, a very strange choice was made of not showing the events he participates in. Alvarez, having said that, could have starred in possibly the best action scene of the whole film.

The team is being interrogated by Nazi officers on their sailboat while Alvarez is making his way to a Nazi warship on its own to plant a bomb there. Isn’t it great? Too bad we don’t get to see it. The audience is privileged to watch an explosion go off far away but weirdly this part is deliberately concealed from them.

Ironically, the two most memorable characters in the film aren’t actually part of the team. Rory Kinnear (Skyfall) is incredibly entertaining as Winston Churchill who gets quite a different portrayal from Gary Oldman’s dramatic one; here Churchill behaves like Guy Ritchie would let him act, swearing at members of British Intelligence who are trying to expose him as PM.

Beside him was Freddie Fox (Slow Horses) as Sir Ian Fleming who was known for his work with SOE and many of their missions inspired his James Bond novels. Regrettably, Fox’s role has little action and only because he plays such an iconic character does anyone remember him at all.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens with Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) and Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson) being questioned on a boat by German naval officers. Surrounded and unarmed though they may be, they simply can’t stop themselves cracking jokes whilst acting like a couple on a romantic cruise. The situation escalates and ultimately results in an attack on the Nazis by the group itself since this is just the cold open thus no member of these squad will die yet.

This absence of threat and tension pervades all action sequences in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare including even its climactic last firefighting episode. In fact, once again an autopsy makes us unable to worry about the mortality of the squad through shooting as it is just a senseless and violent scene that has been robbed of its gravity. In the final firefight, Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) gets shot in his shoulder, suggesting a possible turn of fortunes for the mission. Not so; he remains unscathed. It’s strange that no one pays attention to a bullet wound he received and Guy Ritchie does not make any use of this opportunity for dramatic effect.

This is why Guy Richie films are constantly compared with Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels by fans: they are memorable enough. Instead of trying something new, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare tries so hard to bring back its own magic that it loses itself in imitation. “Almost every other line becomes more about having cool words than getting deeper into these diverse characters” – almost all else could be titled as dialogues-as-movies here.

The characters in Guy Ritchie’s earlier works are still inspiring British filmmakers and screenwriters today. Brad Pitt will forever be remembered as an Irish Traveller bare knuckle boxer, while Stephen Graham’s cockney gangster (who was from Liverpool but whose accent was so convincing that some audiences didn’t realize it) also stands out among others. However, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare ultimately undermines its potential cinematic memorability by overdoing this technique with dialogue.

This is not to say that The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare isn’t an enjoyable film. It’s a reasonably good 2-hour-action movie due to the cast’s effortless charisma and action scenes feeling like they are made for video games. It is unfortunate though, that it doesn’t quite feel like the next Snatch, but rather like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Notably, this will definitely excite die-hard fans of action films. In terms of old-fashioned violent morality disinterested in love letters to the action movies, brutal action and quippy dialogues are combined. Unfortunately, Ritchie has missed his mark this time around in terms of delivering an engaging and memorable cinematic experience to audiences.

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