Review: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Score: C

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer

Running Time: 120 min

Rated: R

You could be forgiven for walking out of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare and immediately forgetting you’ve seen it. Guy Ritchie’s new film about a ragtag group of World War II soldiers taking on a dangerous rouge mission is punchy, violent, and completely generic. Ritchie and his cast don’t seem interested in saying anything profound, instead opting to focus on shooting guns, killing Nazis, and having fun.

The film was adapted from Damien Lewis’s nonfiction book “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII.” Ritchie mostly focuses on the “explosive” and “desperado” parts of that title. Henry Cavill stars as Gus March-Phillips, a quippy soldier with a mustache and a panache for others’ belongings. He learns that Winston Churchill himself (Rory Kinnear in absurd prosthetics) wants him to take a few men and blow up Nazi ships stocked with provisions for U-boats stationed in the Atlantic, blocking Americans from getting involved in a war that’s looking increasingly unwinnable for Great Britain. The only problem is these boats are stationed at Fernando Po, a tiny island off the coast of Africa technically under Spanish control. He and his recruits must go knowing that if they’re caught by Brits, it’ll mean death, and if they’re caught by Germans, torture and death. This threat and plan are restated multiple times by multiple characters, in case you had to make a bathroom run.

March-Phillips recruits the absurdly-ripped Swede Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson in a role that feels like it may have been intended for Armie Hammer in the before times), boat captain Irishman Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), explosives expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), and strategy wizard Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer). Meanwhile, British spies have been sent ahead to gather intelligence — Fernando Po casino owner Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) and actress-turned-spy Marjorie Stewart (Eiza Gonzalez). Their cartoonishly evil Nazi villain is Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger), introduced as being the only thing worse than a Nazi.

Much of Ungentlemanly Warfare feels familiar. These sorts of cool-guy gunslinging films are a dime a dozen (many of them by Ritchie) and setting your film during WWII gives a director free rein to throw in some cool costumes, and vintage guns, and mow down plenty of Nazis in the name of the good guys. At least the director, cast, and crew seem to agree with what this film is. It is certainly not interested in character development or nuance. It’s not even interested in plot twists. Every story beat feels low stakes because clearly these guys are just too cool to die or not succeed. However, the cast is having enough fun to make up for it a little bit. Cavill brings easy charm and killing delight to keep things moving, while Ritchson, fumbling through that Swedish accent, gets to shine in elaborate fight scenes with no dialogue. The same goes for Eiza Gonzalez, who can barely hold onto a British accent but gives enough pouting and doe eyes to fulfill what little the script provides. Rory Kinnear makes a valiant effort at Churchill through all those prosthetics while Til Schweiger embraces his over-the-top-evil villain character. Everyone’s so committed to the bit that it at least makes the two hours go by without dragging too much.

Watching The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare feels like putting on a broken-in pair of boots, you know exactly what to expect. It’s perfect to watch on a weekend as background noise for that afternoon nap that inevitably creeps in. With repetitive dialogue and predictable storytelling, you won’t even be lost when you wake up.


About Katie Anaya

Katie Anaya