FEATURED MOVIE REVIEW: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
John Mulderig
/ Categories: Arts & Culture

FEATURED MOVIE REVIEW: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

PHOTO: Alex Pettyfer and Henry Cavill star in a scene from the movie “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” (OSV News photo/Daniel Smith. Lionsgate)

NEW YORK. “We’re in the Nazi killing business, and cousin, business is a-boomin’” blithely declares Brad Pitt’s character, U.S. Army officer Lt. Aldo Raine, in the 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds.” The same might be said by the core cast of the fact-based World War II action comedy “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” (R, Lionsgate).

Director and co-writer Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Damien Lewis’ 2014 history “Churchill’s Secret Warriors” showcases some clever ruses and innovative, spur-of-the-moment thinking on the part of the U.K.’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). But the mission on which the main characters embark also involves the enthusiastic slaughter of extras by the dozen.

Thus, while the educational nature of the story might otherwise make it valuable fare for older teens, the morally dubious gusto with which Hitler’s minions are dispatched renders this dramatization safest for grown-ups. Even many of them may not care for scenes in which throats are slashed and, in one case at least, a human heart extracted from its owner’s chest.

With Britain facing defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, the SOE’s Brigadier Colin Gubbins (Cary Elwes) turns to a seemingly unlikely ally, Maj. Gus March-Phillipps (Henry Cavill), for help.  Just how unusual their partnership is can be gauged from the fact that, when we first see March-Phillipps, he’s a prisoner in handcuffs, presumably fresh from the clink.

At Gubbins’ behest, March-Phillipps assembles a team of special operatives to strike a decisive blow at German naval power. Their goal is to sink an Italian warship, presently anchored in a neutral African port, whose cargo is vital to the continued success of the Nazi regime’s rampaging U-boats.

Among those March-Phillipps enlists for this mission are hulking Dane Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson), wily Irishman Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and expert saboteur Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer). As the action kicks off, Appleyard is in German captivity. But this, of course, proves no stumbling block for the resourceful March-Phillipps.

The crew’s on shore agents include saloon owner Mr. Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) and fetching Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González) who’s been posing as a New York-based gold merchant to grab the attention of black marketeering local Nazi commander Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger). As Stewart distracts Luhr, March-Phillipps and his cohorts prepare to attack by sea.

There’s a smug tone to the narrative suggesting that the picture is a little too pleased with itself. And some of the details are off, as when Luhr plays a song from Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” on the gramophone. Both leftist Brecht and his “Threepenny” musical collaborator, Jewish composer Kurt Weil, were anathema to the Nazis.

But the main hurtle to any enjoyment of “Ministry” remains its vivid mayhem, which seems to exact about as many German casualties in two hours as the Soviets did in six months at Stalingrad. While, within the context of the period in which the picture is set, the only good Nazi may have been a dead one, the relish with which they’re wiped out remains unsettling.

The film contains frequent stylized but often brutal violence, some images of gore, a glimpse of rear nudity, at least one use of profanity and a couple of rough terms. The OSV News classification is A-III — adult.

(John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter/X @JohnMulderig1.)

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