The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare Brilliantly Brings Guy Ritchie Back to Basics

The British director returns with another remix of his greatest hits: this time, with Nazis.

Inverse Reviews

If there’s any director toeing the line between batshit and brilliant, it’s Guy Ritchie. The British director is a ball of boundless energy, always eager to bring an irreverent sense of humor and brutish violence to his thrillers about crime and punishment.

Well... almost always. For all his love for a “Hard R” rating, Ritchie is also game to bring his talents to the studio system. He’s cleaned up his act many times before, for family-friendly blockbusters (Aladdin) and glossy summer tentpoles (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) alike. Sometimes it works — U.N.C.L.E. was a particular high point — and sometimes it just doesn’t. That hasn’t stopped Ritchie from getting more work, of course, as Hollywood seems to love him more now than it ever has. But that’s also given Ritchie license to rest a bit more on his laurels, coasting on his rambunctious charm, and that of the actors he casts, instead of striving for new horizons.

A gorgeous group of actors can only do so much to bring a flaccid story to life, as Operation Fortune, King Arthur, and Ritchie’s most recent project, The Gentlemen, have easily proven. Perhaps that’s why Ritchie is opting for a slightly simpler story this time around, with The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. A slightly apocryphal historical remix, Ministry is Ritchie’s best film in a long time. It can’t claim to reinvent the wheel, as the director is still pretty comfortable in sticking with what works. But Ritchie does manage to remind us why we fell in love with him in the first place — even if he still has to reference past triumphs to do it.

Ritchie has assembled another charming cast in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.


In The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, the conflict is about as straightforward as they come: It’s 1942, four years into World War II, and the Axis Powers are winning. Despite suffering the blindsiding casualties of Pearl Harbor, the United States has yet to join the war effort, even as Germany’s U-boat submarines have turned international waters into yet another warzone. As Germany conquers Western Europe inch by inch, Britain is one of a few countries left standing. Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear, unfortunately miscast) and Brigadier Colin M Gubbins (Cary Elwes) aren’t left with many options. Their only hope of relief lies in a clandestine, off-the-books mission, and an odd-ball outcast by the name of Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill).

Ritchie’s last team-up with Cavill saw the actor channeling James Bond in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. That cool-headed charm rears its head again in Ministry, with Cavill’s March-Phillips splitting the difference between Napoleon Solo, his U.N.C.L.E. character, and the more eccentric stylings of Sherlock Holmes. Churchill and Gubbins essentially have to break Gus out of jail to recruit him for their mission. He’s so good at his job that he’s offered a pardon on the spot, as well as the freedom to select his own team, in exchange for his services.

The script — penned at turns by Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Arash Amel, and Ritchie himself — really wants us to understand how indispensable Gus is to the war effort. Ditto for the future members of this rag-tag ministry: the Danish huntsman Anders Lassen (Reacher’s Alan Ritchson, savoring his own James Bond moment), affable demolition expert Freddy Alvarez (an underused Henry Golding), and loyal Irish assassin Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, who may or may not be channeling Barry Keoghan here). Most crucial of all is one of Gus’ former compatriots (Alex Pettyfer), imprisoned now in a German fortress. We get all this info from Gus himself, who breaks down each major player in one breezy introduction.

Apart from the above, we don’t get to know a whole lot about any member of the group. Ritchie seems eager to speed-run through as much as possible to get to the true meat of this story — the heist that brings this group together — and spill some Nazi blood in the process.

Ministry’s World War II-era heist is suprisingly straightforward, leaving room for plenty of story-driven tension.


For what it’s worth, Ministry does genuinely pick up after all the table setting. The story is efficient that way: It introduces its key players and their shared mission with all the simplicity of a chewable vitamin. Churchill wants Gus and his team to disable Germany’s U-boats. The only way to do that is to disable the smaller boats that supply them, which are anchored in Fernando Po, a Nazi-occupied island off the coast of Cameroon. While the team approaches from the sea, their cohorts on land (Eiza Gonzàlez’s Marjorie Stewart and Babs Olusanmokun’s Heron) will sabotage Nazi operations.

Of course, if anyone is caught or captured — whether by Allied or Axis powers — Britain will deny ever sending them on this mission. It’s not quite Suicide Squad, not quite Mission: Impossible, but it borrows enough from either to feel like a fresh exhibition for Ritchie.

The director approaches Ministry with a refreshing amount of restraint, as does his cast. Each are unflappable in their own very-English ways, imbuing the film with a sense of humor that smacks of Ocean’s Eleven (a jazzy score by Christopher Benstead definitely helps in that regard). Gone too is the byzantine pacing, or perpetual paranoia, that fueled films like Snatch and RockNRolla. Ministry isn’t designed to confuse or turn the tables. The tension comes not from the idea that our allies might stab each other in the back, but that they could very well be killed by Nazis.

Thankfully Ritchie doesn’t entirely abandon his roots in pulpy violence. Ministry gets bursts of blood-soaked fight sequences where it counts, and it’s here that its cast really shines — though Cavill, surprisingly, feels like he’s taking a backseat here. It’s not that he isn’t having fun as March-Phillips, but Ministry is more a showcase for Ritchson’s bow-and-arrow wielding, heart-collecting (yes, really) assassin, and González’s no-nonsense femme fatale. Olusanmokun is also so good as González’s right-hand man, and he’s not the only one stealing the scene here. There’s also Danny Sapani as Sir Kamp Billy, a posh expat now chewing the scenery as the self-anointed Prince of Fernando Po.

As Gus March-Phillips, Cavill takes a backseat, allowing other members of the cast to shine.


The only problem with Ministry might be that it takes too blasé of an approach to its story. It’s not the first Ritchie film to strip back its brashness and capitalize on style, but here that instinct nearly strips the story of all its friction. On paper, the stakes are high — but you never doubt that March-Phillips and his team won’t make it out alive. Not really. That’s not enough to truly damn the film, as it’s buoyed by a lot of charm and a breezy tone. It’s just missing a little something to carry it over the edge, or at least reaffirm Ritchie as a filmmaker with something new to say.

That Ministry feels like a mishmash of Ritchie’s greatest hits isn’t a total loss. But we love his films because they don’t take themselves too seriously, and this might be the first time that the opposite is true. A buttoned-up remix of Ritchie-isms is better than nothing at all, but it’s still a little frustrating to see such a talented director still stuck in neutral.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens in theaters on April 19.

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