‘The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Review: A Down And Dirty Henry Cavill Leads Unorthodox Mission Against Nazis In Guy Ritchie’s Swell WWII Adventure

The title is the worst thing about this lively, fun and largely true World War II adventure The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, which is inspired by the Damien Lewis book of the same name but extending it to add: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops.

Guy Ritchie has taken this story of an illicit black ops crew, mostly of the prisoner variety, who with the permission of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) was commissioned and put into action (a ragtag group of warriors if ever there was one) in order to sink, as it were, Nazi Germany’s U-boats operation that had been preventing the U.S. from entering the war in Europe.

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Ritchie has been on a roll of late with 2019’s The Gentlemen (now a Netflix series), and a pair from last year, the terrific Afghanistan War-set The Covenant, and also another unfortunately titled but deliciously entertaining caper Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. There is no question this action-comedy filmmaker has been turning ’em out, and it is nice to report he is back on his game ala earlier gems like 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch. I wasn’t as big a fan of more bloated studio projects like his two Sherlock Holmes flicks or the misguided The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. The latter starred Henry Cavill, who is back in action to better results with Ritchie in this one playing the group’s leader Gus March-Phillips, who embarks on this seafaring mission to undermine the Germans and hit ’em where it hurts.

March-Phillips, out of prison now, is summoned into a high-level, highly secretive meeting with top British officials to take command of this operation, which is basically a suicide mission — one where no one may survive and one the government will never admit hatching. Among those in the room that he meets is a man who cheekily introduces himself, last name first, as “Fleming. Ian Fleming” (Freddie Fox). That is right, the Ian Fleming, who would go on to create 007 himself, James Bond. In fact, as the end credits tell us, March-Phillips is thought to be the real-life inspiration for the superspy, and you might say Cavill is showing he could have just the right stuff to take up the mantle left by Daniel Craig (although rumors say otherwise). Anyway, continuing the Bond association, this high-stakes game is put into place by the Special Operations leader “M,” aka Brigadier Grubbins (Cary Elwes), and March-Phillips goes about stitching the group together.

This is miles above junk like The Expendables, which Lionsgate beat to death. For true inspiration, if you are a fan of this kind of 1960s-style WWII movie it is impossible not to think of Robert Aldrich’s seminal 1967 The Dirty Dozen, in which Lee Marvin led a similar unkempt team. There aren’t a dozen this time by my count, and this flick is a lot talkier, but the spirit is there no doubt. My favorite of these kinds of impossible “go-into-the-heart-of-Nazi-territory” mission movies is the 1961 Oscar Best Picture nominee The Guns of Navarone, a film not topped in this genre — I have seen it 10 times at least. And even if this one is ripped right from the British history books, Ritchie still makes it feel wildly fictional in the vein of Inglorious Basterds, where Tarantino threw it all against the wall. The long list and photos of the actual perpetrators of this mission shown over the end credits proves that actual events can sometimes be stranger than fiction. This is a doozy of a tale, and it is only surprising the movies haven’t gotten around to telling it until now, but apparently the classified operation didn’t even come to light until shortly before Lewis’ book came out in 2014.

In addition to Cavill, there is a fun group assembled including the outrageous Swede, Anders Lassen (a fine Alan Ritchson), who prefers a bow and arrow as his weapon of choice, one he uses well. There is also explosives expert Freddy Alvarez (played by Henry Golding); Ship’s Captain Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin); and the amusingly named Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), who the group frees from torture in a Nazi prison, killing off the enemy is uninhibited ways to do it.

So somehow they steal some Nazi ships and sail to the island of Fernando Po in order to destroy Italian cargo ship The Duchessa, which is being loaded with valuable Nazi supplies, and then the U-boats as well. On another front they are in cahoots with undercover spy Marjorie Stewart, here played by the alluring Eiza González, who even gets a sultry musical number to perform ala Rita Hayworth. Along with her there is also black market expert Heron (Babs Olusanmokun), both with a plan to later connect with them for the big finale on the island, where it will all come to a head against the minister of evil in this scenario, Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger, playing the stereotyped Nazi for all its worth).

The repartee among the team is fun all the way, the violent action is plenty, but the busloads of dialogue Ritchie & Arash Amel and co-writers Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson provide slows it down a bit too much at times. Nevertheless this all is a blast from the past and we are in good hands, even when things don’t quite go the way they were planned. Shout-outs especially to Ed Wild’s splendid cinematography, and a score from Chris Benstead that would make Elmer Bernstein and Dmitri Tiomkin proud.

Producers for Lionsgate, Black Bear, Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and Toff Guy are Jerry Bruckheimer, Ritchie, Chad Oman, John Friedberg and Ivan Atkinson.

Title: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release date: April 19, 2024
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriters: Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Arash Amel & Guy Ritchie
Cast: Henry Cavill, Rory Kinnear, Cary Elwes, Henry Golding, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Eiza Gonzalez, Til Schweiger, Babs Olusanmokun, Freddie Fox.
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hr 0 min

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