Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Image via Lionsgate
It is late 1941. Britain has been at war with Nazi Germany for two years but things have not been going well. Needed supply ships from the United States were more often than not torpedoed by the German submarines prowling beneath the Atlantic Ocean’s surface. Deciding that “[i]f Hitler isn’t playing by the Rules, then neither shall we,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill orders a mission to take out the supply chain for the subs. Since that would require action on a Spanish-controlled island, the majority of the British high command is against the idea, so Churchill recruits Brigadier Colin Gubbins to assemble a small covert team for the operation, a group of misfits who set out to change the course of the war.

Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens with a title card that states that its events are based on a true story and if one has a bit of a passing knowledge of World War Two history, it should feel a bit familiar. (And if you have ever delved into the literary creation of a certain British secret agent with a license to kill some of the personages here will be very familiar.) Operation Postmaster was an actual military mission originating from Britain’s relatively new Special Operations Executive, with the intent of crippling Germany’s stranglehold on the Atlantic. If the operation went off in real life as well as it appears to have in the film, credit should be given to the British planning and the men who pulled it off. However, meticulously planned and executed missions seldom make for engrossing cinema. When every setback or obstacle seems to be so readily dealt with as they are here, the film is unable to build any sort of dramatic tension or stakes. Fortunately Ritchie is able to keep things moving along at a good pace while placing the rest of the movie’s ability to keep the audience engaged on the broad shoulders of most of heroes, who share a breezy, fun chemistry.

If you are a fan looking forward to a new helping of director Ritchie’s kinetic visual style, you may be in for something of a disappointment here. The film is fairly absent of his usual trademarks zooms and speedrampings that first caught audiences’ and critics’ attention with his debut film Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and which helped to form his core approach to the stories he brings to the screen. Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare is more akin to is the epic war films of the 1960s and early `70s such as The Guns Of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra or The Dirty Dozen. There are a number of action sequences involving the gunning down of various nazi goons, but like those older films, this violence is fairly bloodless. Even when some of the heroes have to resort to using knives or one case an axe, the weapons’ impacts are often either obscured or off-camera entirely.

Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare may not add much to the WWII men-on-a-mission genre. And even fifteen years after it’s release, Ministry does seem to sit somewhat in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist Inglourious Basterds. But Ministry doesn’t feel as self-conscious as Tarantino’s film; it just wants to entertain you and if watching Nazis get what’s deserved, it succeeds at that as breezily as its characters do their mission.

Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Image via Lionsgate.
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About Rich Drees 7205 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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