By Jonathan Monovich.

Not as in-your-face as Ritchie’s earliest work… yet there is still plenty to please fans….”

Guy Ritchie has become well-known for his distinct style, easily recognized by quick cuts, lively transitions, intersecting plotlines, witty dialogue, and dark humor. This unique style, which audiences have come to love, was largely absent from Ritchie’s previous three films: The Covenant (2023), Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (2023), and Wrath of Man (2021). Ritchie’s latest, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024), is not as in-your-face as his earliest work like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), and Revolver (2005), yet there is still plenty to please fans of his best-known flicks. Ministry, based on Damien Lewis’ book Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII, tells the remarkable story of Operation Postmaster. The film is an entertaining retelling of a “unsanctioned, unorthodox, and unofficial” special forces mission, commissioned by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear), Brigadier Gubbins (Cary Elwes), and Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox), to infiltrate Atlantic U-boats and prevent Nazi domination. The ungentlemanly consist of Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), Freddy the “Frog Man” (Henry Golding), the “Danish Hammer” (Alan Ritchson), and Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer). Each brings a different talent to the team, ranging from explosives to archery. Their leader is Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) who is revealed to be the inspiration for Fleming’s iconic James Bond character. Along for the ride are Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González) and Heron (Babs Olusanmokun). Enemy number one for the ungentlemanly is Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger).

Ministry at first follows a rescue assignment to retrieve Appleyard from German captivity, channeling Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Great Escape (1963). The film then evolves into a comical ensemble driven action/adventure film in the vein of the thematically similar Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). This helps develop the on-screen camaraderie of the characters and allows for a fun combat sequence. The ungentlemanly each possess their own vendettas with the Nazis. Some are Jewish, making the mission especially personal. The characters’ motives for revenge stimulate Inglorious Basterds (2009) style scenarios. Some moments are undeniably inspired by Tarantino’s masterpiece, the most obvious being the exchanges between Stewart and Luhr that play out like the unforgettable interactions of Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) and Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). The connection with Inglorious Basterds goes further as Til Schweiger portrayed one of the Basterds—Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz. Furthermore, Ritchie is no stranger to violence and unafraid to use multiple languages to his advantage. Simultaneously, Christopher Benstead’s score employs Ennio Morricone-esque spaghetti western musical cues on multiple occasions. Though Inglorious Basterds is surely the better film, Ministry is a notable entry in the WWII genre and one of the more amusing action films to come out in recent years. It doesn’t hit all the notes, but Ritchie has designed a film that is tonally enjoyable.

Ministry has key elements of a spy film: gadgets, guns, and grit. Benstead’s score also becomes jazzy at times, emulating the groovy 1960s caper films of the day. Additionally, the elegance of Rebecca Gillies’ set decoration paired with the exotic terrain that the ungentlemanly travel makes for reminiscence of Bond classics. Along the way there are many laughs, primarily driven by Cavill and Ritchson. Their performances are characterized by wisecracks and physicality. Despite the film’s infusion of humor, it is clear that there is great respect by Ritchie and the film’s actors for the true ungentlemanly and their amazing demonstration of courage. The film’s other standouts are González and Schweiger.

González carries some of the most suspenseful scenes, and her back-and-forths with Schweiger create strong tension. Stylistically, this is emphasized when Ritchie cleverly removes background noise on a dime amidst their conversations and hones in on the sound of a lighter being ignited for jarring effect.

Following The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Ministry, Ritchie has solidified a successful collaborative relationship with Henry Cavill. The two work quite well together, and the duo will reunite with González for the upcoming film In the Grey. Though some may yearn for Ritchie’s early work, Ministry further supports that Ritchie has become a skilled director of the large-scale action spectacle. It’s a shame that he isn’t planned to be returning for the third installment in the excellent Sherlock Holmes (2009) franchise that he started.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is exclusively in theaters, starting April 19th, via Lionsgate.

Jonathan Monovich is a Chicago-based writer and Image Editor for Film International, where he regularly contributes. His writing has also been featured in Film Matters, Bright Lights Film Journal, and PopMatters.

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