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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024) Review

Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) is back with The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Based on what is allegedly the first “Black Ops” mission, it’s a variation on The Dirty Dozen and all the knock offs that followed, right up to and including Inglourious Basterds.

The film opens with a boat having just been boarded by several members of the German Navy. As they pour gasoline over the deck, they tell its occupants they have the choice of staying on board and burning to death, or jumping overboard and drowning. For some reason, however, they don’t seem very worried.

From there we jump back 25 days, to Churchill (Rory Kinnear, The Mezzotint, Our Flag Means Death) watching newsreel footage about Hitler’s U-boats keeping American troops from entering the war. He decides that since they are cutting off Britain’s supply lines, they have to cut off the supplies to the U-boats, and since Hitler isn’t playing by the rules, neither will he.

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The next thing we know, Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill, Blood Creek, The Witcher) has been called from his prison cell and is being interviewed by Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox, Victor Frankenstein, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) about leading the mission. He says he’s in, as long as he can pick his team.

There’s Danish bowman Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson, Fast X, Ghosts of War), underwater demolitions expert and convicted pyromaniac Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding, Assassin Club, Crazy Rich Asians), Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Silencing) and Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer, Black Noise, Chief of Station). There’s just one problem, despite all his alleged skills, Geoffrey is currently stuck in a German prison and will have to be broken out.

The script was written by Paul Tamasy (Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, The Outpost), Eric Johnson (The Outpost, The Finest Hours) and Arash Amel (Hidden Strike, The Titan), based rather loosely, on Damien Lewis’ book “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops,”.

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By rather loosely I mean The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a mix of actual historical figures, fictional characters and characters who share the name of historical figures but are nothing like their namesakes. For example, of the two agents collecting intel for the crew one, Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González, Godzilla vs. Kong, 3 Body Problem) is a watered down version of the real woman. The other, Heron (Babs Olusanmokun, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Dune: Part One) is entirely made up.

The question though isn’t how accurate The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is, it’s how entertaining is it. The answer is, it’s a very mixed bag. The film has a couple of large scale action scenes, so if you just want to see Nazis get killed, you’re in luck. The problem is, it’s so easy that there’s almost no sense of danger to any of it. The Germans are portrayed as a bunch of incompetents who would have been lucky to pull off the invasion of Poland, let alone conquer most of Europe.

This, in turn, means much of the film’s action consists of our heroes gunning down what appears to be the entire German Army with barely a shot fired at them. That’s made worse by the accompaniment of Christopher Benstead’s (Rupture, The Gentlemen) distractingly anachronistic score.

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Also distracting is Rory Kinnear’s appearances as Winston Churchill. His performance itself is fine, but he’s about twenty years younger than thee man he’s portraying, and for some reason they didn’t use any makeup to age him. Even worse, in more than one scene he looks more like Archie Bunker, complete with cigar, than anyone else. That aside, the cast does a decent job, despite almost all of them having severely underdeveloped characters and little to work with. That includes Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Saw) as Brigadier General Gubbins, Ian Fleming’s inspiration for James Bond’s boss, M.

When it does get itself together, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a decent enough time waster, though at two hours long it takes up a bit too much time. However, with a director like Guy Ritchie and what was obviously a decent budget, the results are a bit underwhelming.

After some preview screenings, Liongate will release The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare in theatres on April 19th. You can check the film’s website for more details.

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