‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,’ starring Henry Cavill, Eiza González, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Babs Olusanmokun, Henry Golding and Cary Elwes

April 14, 2024

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Alex Pettyfer, Alan Ritchson, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Henry Golding and Henry Cavill in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” (Photo by Dan Smith/Lionsgate)

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1942, in the United Kingdom, Fernando Po (now known as Bioko), the Canary Islands, and the Atlantic Ocean, the action film “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” (based on true events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, a few Asian people and one Latina) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of rogues, who are secretly recruited by the U.K. government, team up with U.K. government spies in a plan to defeat Nazi German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Culture Audience: “The Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Guy Ritchie, the movie’s headliners, and unimaginative action movies taking place during World War II.

Eiza González in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” (Photo by Dan Smith/Lionsgate)

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” could have been a superb film for history-based movies that take place during World War II. Instead, this tedious spy-and-combat clunker has bland dialogue, mediocre action scenes, and hollow main characters. There’s also gross sexism in how the token female character’s purpose is literally described as “seducer” in the movie. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is so biased and inaccurate with its machismo, there is only one woman who has a significant speaking role in this disappointing film, which diminishes or erases the large number of women who made important contributions to World War II. Out of all the cast members who have character names in the movie, only two are women, and one of them has only a few minutes of screen time.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” was written by Ritchie, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Arash Amel. The movie’s screenplay is adapted from Damien Lewis’ 2015 non-fiction book “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops,” which is based on true events revealed in declassified documents. A caption in the beginning of the movie says that the story is based on former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s files that were declassified in 2016, the year after Lewis’ aforementioned book was published. This book is not to be confused with Giles Milton’s 2015 non-fiction book “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”

Ritchie has made a career out of directing male-oriented action movies, but the quality of these movies has gone downhill since his best films in the 2000s, even if the budgets for Ritchie’s movies have been noticeably higher in subsequent decades. The one time that Ritchie had a woman as the lead character in a feature film that he directed—2002’s terrible romantic drama “Swept Away,” starring Madonna, who was married to Ritchie at the time—it was a disastrous flop on every single level.

It’s unknown if the failure of “Swept Away” turned Ritchie off from ever doing a movie again where a woman is the central protagonist. However, his filmmaking track record indicates he’s only comfortable directing movies where women are the supporting characters and are usually tokens whose roles are either “wife,” “girlfriend” or “seductress,” while the male characters in Ritchie’s films get to have the most fun. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is just more of the same sexist pattern.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” (which takes place in 1942) unfolds in an unnecessarily convoluted way that drags down the pace of the movie. The movie’s opening scene shows a British-owned boat in the Atlantic Ocean’s “Nazi-controlled waters” being overtaken by Nazis. The Nazi commanding officer (played by Jens Grund) coldly announces to the boat’s captured men that he usually gives detainees on a ship or boat the choice of either jumping overboard or taking their chances when the vessel is set on fire.

As the vessel is about to be destroyed by Nazi arson, the captured boat occupants fight back and kill the Nazis. After they defeat these villains, they blow up the Nazi ship nearby. Who are these men with almost superhero-like fighting skills? They are a motley crew of rogues and renegades who will soon be recruited by the Churchill-led U.K. government to defeat Nazi German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean. 

And all of these “heroes” happen to unrealisitically look like extremely good-looking actors. The group’s leader is a dashing Brit named Gus March-Phillips (played by Henry Cavill), who does his fair share of posing and smirking throughout the movie. Gus is the type of leader who doesn’t pass up the chance to make wisecracking quips, but the “jokes” in this movie mostly fall flat. These “jokes” might elicit a few short chuckles but nothing that will turn into sustained laugh-out-loud moments.

Gus has a group of guys he likes to work with and who all have shady pasts like he does. They include Anders Lassen (played Alan Ritchson), who is described as a Danish “legend with a bow and arrow” and an “uncontrollable mad dog”; Freddy Alvarez (played by Henry Golding), who is a convicted arsonist; and Henry Hayes (played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin), an Irishman whose brother was killed in a U-boat sunk by the Nazis. The characters of Gus March-Phillips and Anders Lassen are based on real people with the same names, although the real Gus March-Phillipps had a slightly different spelling of his last name. Henry Hayes is based on the real-life Graham Hayes. Freddy Alvarez is a character fabricated for this movie.

Another member of this rebellious group is Geoffrey Appleyard (played by Alex Pettyfer), a Brit who is described as “a master planner, a master survivor, a master surgeon” and “an expert with a blade.” Geoffrey Appleyard is also based on a real person with the same name. In this movie, Geoffrey isn’t quite the master planner he is described as, because he’s gotten himself captured in a Nazi prison in the Canary Islands’ La Palma. Guess who’s going to break him out of this prison?

Before this prison breakout scene happens, there are some choppily edited scenes showing how this “ministry” was formed during World War II. Despite Gus’ tension-filled and rocky history with the U.K. government, Prime Minister Churchill (played by a miscast Rory Kinnear) wants Gus to lead a secret group of operatives who will be on a mission to defeat Nazi German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean, near Fernando Po, an Equatorial Guinea island which is now known as Bioko. 

Gus is summoned to Special Operations Executive headquarters in London, where he meets with Prime Minister Churchill and four other people who are in this office meeting: Brigadier Gubbins, nicknamed M (played by Cary Elwes); spy Ian Fleming (played by Freddie Fox); spy Marjorie Stewart (played by Eiza González); and spy Richard Heron (played by Babs Olusanmokun), who is called Heron in the movie. Brigadier Gubbins is based the real-life major-general Colin McVean Gubbins. The characters of Ian Fleming and Marjorie Stewart are also based on real people. Heron is a character who was fabricated for the movie.

One of the worst things about this movie is that it doesn’t tell much about Ian Fleming, who would later become famous in real life as the author of James Bond novels. In “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” Ian Fleming has a blank personality. Marjorie is described as an “actress, singer and seducer” with German Jewish heritage on her mother’s side of the family. Heron’s main claim to fame is that he throws great parties. Marjorie and Heron are the spies who have the most contact with Gus and his gang.

The mission is so secretive, most British military officials don’t know about it. Therefore, people on the mission are warned that they not only must avoid being captured by Nazis, they also must avoid being arrested by British officials. Brigadier Gubbins is stereotypically a bureaucrat type who inevitably clashes with the more freewheeling Gus. Brigadier Gubbins is supposed to be Gus’ direct supervisor on this mission, but Gus naturally resists this authority.

It should be noted that “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is not as integrated as it appears to be. For a great deal of the movie, especially in the first half, Margorie and Heron (who is black) work together and do not interact with the other people on the team. It’s an off-putting way of showing “let’s put the woman and black person over there, and everyone else can go over here.” When Margorie and Heron eventually do work directly with Gus and his group, it looks very contrived for the movie.

Margorie had a fascinating story in real life, including a marriage to Gus that is only mentioned in the movie’s epilogue. Unfortunately, in this movie, Margorie is reduced to being a “sexpot sidekick” who occasionally uses a gun. Fans of González can at least take comfort in knowing that González does the best that she can with a limited role. And for what it’s worth, Marjorie has the best costumes in the movie, even if those costumes predictably include dresses where she has to show her breast cleavage. It should come as no surprise that Marjorie has been tasked with seducing a Nazi German official named Henrich Luhr (played Til Schweiger), who has valuable information about the U-boats that the hero team wants to sink.

Heron is suave and has many friends, but his role in the movie is to provide “the entertainment,” while other people do the most difficult planning for the mission. There’s a messy section of the movie where Heron has arranged two parties happening at the same time: a costume party for Nazi officers (where Marjorie dresses as Cleopatra, and she convinces Luhr to dress as Julius Caesar) and “beerfest” for Nazi soldiers. The purpose of both parties is to keep a certain dock mostly unguarded so that the “ministry” can complete its mission.

Gus and his gang of rogues (in other words, the characters in the movie who get to do the most action) are unfortunately written in generic ways where very little is told about who they are. Hardly anything is shown that proves Gus’ cronies have unique and distinct personalities, so the cast members act accordingly. Gus is not as charismatic as he thinks he is.

Likewise, the government officials also have lackluster depictions. At one point, Prime Minister Churchill says to subordinates about this mission against the Nazis: “I need you to air raid their ships … Hitler is not playing by the rules, and neither are we.” Yawn.

Kinnear is a skilled actor, but he can’t overcome the obvious flaw of looking too young to portray Prime Minister Churchill during this period of time. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” takes place in 1942, when Churchill was 67 or 68 years old. Kinnear was in his mid-40s when he portrayed Churchill in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” The filmmakers didn’t bother to make Kinnear look like the same age as Churchill was during this period of time. This age inaccuracy doesn’t ruin the movie, because Churchill is not a central character in this film, but it’s a noticeable flaw.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” has a tone-deaf way of glossing over a lot of Nazi bigotry. The movie has an attitude of “let’s not show any of the racist and religious hate that Nazis inflicted on people” in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”—as if it’s assumed it’s sufficient enough to just label the Nazis as the antagonists. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is not a Holocaust movie, and it doesn’t have to be a lecture about the evils of Nazis’ hate, but it’s not a very responsibly made history-based film showing the damage of Nazi prejudice and hate crimes. For example, there’s a scene on a train where a uniformed Nazi has a cordial conversation with Margorie and Heron. In real life, a uniformed Nazi probably would not have been as polite and would most likely have tried to assert some type of bigoted superiority over these obviously non-Aryan people.

As for the action sequences, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” doesn’t do anything spectacular. There isn’t even a credible attempt at building suspense. It’s just a “checklist/countdown” movie that goes from one location to the next, until the predictable conclusion. (“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” was filmed in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Türkiye, also known as Turkey.)

The film editing isn’t very impressive. There are too many scenes that are meant to show how “globetrotting” this movie is, but all that’s shown in several (not all) international scenes are a few minutes of dialogue that didn’t really need to be in the movie. The dialogue in this film is mostly forgettable, which is why the movie’s characters come across as cardboard personalities instead of authentic people. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” has an attractive and talented cast, but putting them in various locations with a flimsy story does not magically turn this shallow mediocrity into a well-made or compelling movie.

Lionsgate will release “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” in U.S. cinemas on April 19. 2024. Sneak previews of the movie were shown in select U.S. cinemas on April 8, 2024, and on April 13, 2024. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” will be released on digital and VOD on may 10, 2024.

Review: ‘Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,’ starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim

April 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Dar Salim and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in Afghanistan and in the United States, the action film “Guy Ritche’s The Covenant” features a cast of white and Middle Eastern characters (with a few African American, Latinos and East Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class and who are connected in some way to the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Culture Clash: U.S. Army master sergeant John Kinley, who has his life saved by an Afghan interpreter, goes on a mission to rescue the interpreter and the interpreter’s family from war-torn Afghanistan and to keep the U.S. government’s promise to give U.S. visas to the family. 

Culture Audience: “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Guy Ritchie, the movie’s headliners, and stories about noble rescue missions during a war.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Antony Starr in “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” offers an overly simplistic portrayal of an American rescue mission in Afghanistan. However, this action flick has solid performances and capably shows the importance of interpreters during war. The movie is a mixed bag of questionable scenarios that look very fabricated for a movie and realistic depictions of the emotions and motivations for these actions.

Guy Ritchie tends to write and direct action movies that have a lot of wisecracking banter among the characters. Compared to those other films, “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is a departure for him, since it’s a deadly serious film that is inspired by harrowing situations from the 2001 to 2021 war that the U.S. waged in Afghanistan. (The movie, which takes place in 2018, was actually filmed in Spain.) In addition to directing “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” and being one of the movie’s producers, Ritchie co-wrote the screenplay with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies.

The rescue mission part of the story doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie. Until then, viewers get to know the two central characters when the movie shows how these two men bonded during the horrors of war. John Kinley (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who is American, is a master sergeant for the U.S. Army. Ahmed Abdullah (played by Dar Salim), who is Afghan, currently works as an interpreter for the U.S. military. Other things about Ahmed’s background are eventually revealed and cause people to trust or mistrust Ahmed. John and Ahmed are both in their 40s and happily married to loyal wives.

The beginning of “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” takes place in Afghanistan, where John is leading a squad of staff sergeants who are tasked with finding explosives from the Taliban. It’s a tight-knit unit that has overall good camaraderie. The members of this specialist unit under John’s leadership are Joshua “JJ” Jung (played by Jason Wong); Tom “Tom Cat” Hancock (played by Rhys Yates); Eduardo “Chow Chow” Lopez (played by Christian Ochoa); Charlie “Jizzy” Crow (played by Sean Sagar); and Jack “Jack Jack” Jackson (played by James Nelson Joyce); and Steve Kersher (played by Bobby Schofield), the youngest sergeant in the group.

Because this is a brutal war, not everyone will make it out alive. The unit has an interpreter named Kalan (played by Walid Shahalami), who is killed by a hidden bomb. John chooses Ahmed from a group of local interpreters to replace Kalan. John hired Ahmed without knowing much about him, except that Ahmed can speak four langauges, and Ahmed needs the money for this interpreter job. Ahmed also has a brother named Ali (played by Damon Zolfaghari), who has a pivotal role in the story.

There are the predictable clashes between Ahmed (who has a tendency to defy John’s orders) and John (who has a tendency to not trust Ahmed’s information over the U.S. military’s intel), but Ahmed and John eventually learn to trust each other. Later, it’s revealed that Ahmed decided to help the U.S. government out of revenge for the Taliban killing his son years earlier, and because the interpreter job comes with the promise that Ahmed and his wife Basira (played by Fariba Sheikhan) can get U.S. visa for themselves and their unborn child. Basira is pregnant at the beginning of the story. The Taliban considers Ahmed to be a traitor, so he’s also a target for murder by the Taliban.

Through a series of events, John and Ahmed are separated from the rest of the unit. Ahmed saves John’s life on multiple occasions. After John gets serious injuries, Ahmed carries a barely conscious John in a cart on a dangerous trek through the mountains. This trip results in John being rescued and sent back to the U.S., but Ahmed is left behind in Afghanistan. Ahmed gets put on the Taliban’s “most wanted” list, so he and his family go into hiding. John is also put on the Taliban’s “most wanted” list.

The fact that John makes it home alive because of Ahmed’s help is not spoiler information, because these details are already revealed in the trailer for “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant.” The middle of the movie is about John recovering at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lives with his wife Caroline (played by Emily Beecham) and their two underage children: son Lil Chris (played by Kieran Fort) and daughter Jess (played Savannah Fort). It’s mentioned at one point in the story that Caroline (who does administrative work for the U.S military) and John have been together for 12 years.

John is overwhelmed by guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a driving motivation to make good on the promise that Ahmed and his family will get U.S. visas. Not surprisingly, John gets stymied by a tangled web of bureaucracy in the U.S. government. Expect to see montages where John makes phone calls to uncaring bureaucrats, and he gets increasingly frustrated to the point where he has screaming meltdowns over the phone with people who are of no help.

John’s commanding officer Colonel Vokes (played by Jonny Lee Miller) is empathetic, but he tells John that John has to go through the proper channels to get help for Ahmed. John’s U.S. Army sergeant Declan O’Brady (played by Alexander Ludwig), who served in combat alongside John and has a lot of admiration for John, decides to give more pro-active assistance that can bypass the U.S. government. Declan refers John to military contractor Eddie Parker (played by Antony Starr), who can help John for a hefty price.

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” certainly has a lot of action-packed suspense and American patriotic moments. And it’s admirable that, unlike many other war movies, it does not portray one side as all “good” and the other side as all “evil.” However, “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” stumbles with some very corny dialogue that prevents this movie from becoming a classic war film. During one of his angst-filled moments, John says to Caroline after she says she’s grateful that John came home alive: “You think they blessed you. Well, they cursed me. I am a man who gets no rest.”

“Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” is different in tone from most of Ritche’s other movies, but this very male-dominated film still continues Ritchie’s pattern of having women in his action flicks only as tokens. In the case of “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” Basira and Caroline get very limited screen time and just have roles where they are “the worrried wives at home.” Caroline has one short monologue, where she gives a “stand by your man” pep talk to John before he decides to go back to Afghanistan and rescue Ahmed and Ahmed’s family.

Although it’s a very noble deed for John to go back and rescue Ahmed and Ahmed’s family, the movie makes it unrealistically look like John is some kind of super-soldier. John recovers so quickly from his injuries and is operates on such a high level of extraordinary skills, he can lead a combat mission and be a top-notch international spy (he goes back to Afghanistan under an alias), all without the U.S. government knowing about it. Parker’s team helps, of course, but John uses an alias with Parker too. It’s very hard to believe that a special ops expert like Parker would be this easily fooled.

A movie like “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” isn’t too concerned about making everything look accurate and believable. The film’s main purpose is to make viewers root for the “heroes” of the story. In that respect, these flawed heroes are compelling to watch, even if they always act like movie characters. The meaningful friendship that develops between John and Ahmed is the heart of the story, which gives this movie enough life for it to be worth watching.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant” in U.S. cinemas on April 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,’ starring Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Josh Hartnett, Cary Elwes, Bugzy Malone and Hugh Grant

March 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Aubrey Plaza in “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” (Photo by Dan Smith/Lionsgate)

“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in various countries in Europe and Asia, the action film “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of undercover operatives, who work for the British government, recruit a movie star to work with them on a mission, as they try to stop an illegal deal involving weapons of mass destruction, in order to save the world. 

Culture Audience: “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Guy Ritchie, star Jason Statham, and formulaic and soulless spy movies.

Lourdes Faberes and Hugh Grant in “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” (Photo by Dan Smith/Lionsgate)

When does a movie about undercover operatives become boring and useless? When you can predict everything that will happen within the first 10 minutes of watching the film. “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is so formulaic and lacking in creativity, you could literally fall asleep in the middle of the film and not miss much, because there isn’t much of a plot. This smug and cliché-plagued action flick is proof that Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham have gotten lazy in their movie collaborations. The fights look too fake. The whole film is a failure of imagination, motivated by greed and paid trips to exotic places.

Ritchie directed “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. Ritchie, Atkinson and Davies previously collaborated on the screenplays for 2020’s “The Gentlemen” and 2021’s “Wrath of Man,” which were both also directed by Ritchie. The quality of each of these collaborations has rapidly decreased with each subsequent film.

Stop if you’ve heard this plot before: A ragtag group of undercover operatives jet back and forth to various countries to try to stop a “fill in the blank” from happening, in order to save the world. In the case of “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” the mission is to stop a billionaire arms dealer from selling a stolen cargo of weapons of mass destruction, and to prevent these weapons from being available on the open market. This over-used concept describes every other big-budget spy film with an ensemble cast of stars, whose characters fight, get involved in car chases, dodge explosions, and maybe have a little romance along the way.

“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” (“ruse de guerre” means “ruse of war” in French) is a checklist of these stereotypes, without coming close to being as charming and funny as the movies thinks it is. Half of the principal cast members look like they’ve checked out emotionally and act no better than robots, while the other half of the principal cast members try to salvage the weak and derivative screenplay by playing their roles with a “tongue in cheek” tone that just looks awkward when they’re in the same scenes as their lackluster co-stars. It’s not the worst spy movie ever, but it shouldn’t be this bad, since the filmmakers and stars of this movie are capable of doing much better.

“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” (which was filmed in Turkey and Qatar but takes place in several countries in Europe and Asia) opens with a scene of a world-weary British government operative named Nathan (played by Cary Elwes) being somewhat annoyed, as he walks through a government building to have an office meeting with his supervisor: a no-nonsense and bland bureaucrat named Knighton (played by Eddie Marsan), who has summoned Nathan to this meeting on a Sunday morning.

Nathan is irritated because of the time and day of this meeting. Nathan apparently still doesn’t understand that he doesn’t have the type of job where the only work hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Monday to Friday. Nathan acting like he should have regular office hours is one of many ways that “Operation Fortune” makes these spy characters look like idiots. Knighton tells Nathan that 20 armed guards were killed two nights earlier, during an armed robbery that happened near Johannesburg, South Africa.

Knighton gives Nathan this order about the stolen cargo: “I want you to retrieve what went missing, and to find out who the seller is, who the buyer is, and what it is. It’s worth about $10 billion. it’s been given the name The Handle.” Translation: The screenplay is so sloppy and underdeveloped, the screenwriters didn’t bother to come up with any interesting details before this mission began. And if Knighton doesn’t know what the missing cargo is, how does he really know it’s worth $10 billion? It’s all just so illogical and stupid.

Knighton says to Nathan: “I need a creative, cunning and unconventional vision to retrieve this kind of mercurial threat. A courier on a bicycle in congested traffic. Not the official team. They’d take forever to wade through traffic, and the clock doth ticketh.”

First of all, “creative, cunning and unconventional” is not how to describe this movie. Second, who says nonsense like “The clock doth ticketh?” Third, the answer to that question: Only people in a badly written movie.

Nathan then begrudgingly assembles a team that includes these three core members for this mission:

  • Orson Fortune (played by Statham), a stern Brit, is described as having claustrophobia, agoraphobia and a penchant for having the British government pay for his lavish expenses, which he calls “rehab,” whether it’s for legitimate rehab or not.
  • Sarah Fidel (played by Aubrey Plaza), a wisecracking American, is a quick thinker and a computer technology expert.
  • JJ Davies (played by Bugzy Malone), a quiet and loyal Brit, has keen shooter skills and can handle himself well in a fist fight.

This is the type of idiotic dialogue in the movie. In the meeting between Nathan and Orson to get Orson to join the team, Nathan says, “[A] threat is imminent.” Orson asks, “How imminent?” Nathan replies, “Imminently imminent.”

Nathan is not looking forward to working with Orson, because Nathan thinks that Orson is too high-maintenance and problematic, but Knighton has ordered that Orson be on Nathan’s team. Meanwhile, Orson and Sarah have some friction with each other because they each think they are smarter than the other one. JJ is truly a token character who doesn’t say or do much except show up at the right times to help out in a fight. Nathan does some traveling with his crew, but for most of the movie, he’s giving orders while he’s in an office or away at a luxury resort.

Sarah used to work for Nathan’s fiercest operative rival Mike Hook (played by Peter Ferdinando), who also works for the British government, but Mike has a habit of poaching Nathan’s best employees. John Welch (played by Nicholas Facey) is a recently poached employee who currently works for Mike. Nathan thinks hiring Sarah for Nathan’s team is some sort of revenge that he can get on Mike.

“Operation Fortune” has several repetitive scenes showing Nathan and/or members of his team having snarling, sneering and sniping encounters with Mike and his team. After the third time this happens, you’ll feel like yelling at the screen: “We get it: Nathan’s people and Mike’s people don’t like each other!” Here are some choice words that Nathan has to say about Mike when Nathan is having a phone conversation with Knighton: “Mike only has two talents: blowing his cover and blowing himself.”

After Nathan and Orson go to Madrid to bring Sarah and JJ into their team, there’s a silly caper sequence that’s supposed to take place at Merchant Logo Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, where a retired professor named Donald Bakker (played by Ian Bartholomew) with a brown crocodile briefcase has been identified as the “bag man” with an important computer data drive. Nathan’s team and Mike’s team are all spying on Donald at the airport at the same time.

Somehow, throughout the entire movie, Sarah seems to have video surveillance and wireless microphones everywhere. She works like a one-person, far-reaching command center to tell people, who are long distances away, everything she’s seeing while they all wear hidden ear pieces. Sarah also spends a lot of time directing people on where to go, as if they’re characters in a voice-activated video game.

Nathan’s team finds out that a billionaire arms dealer named Greg Simmonds (played by Hugh Grant) is involved in the deal to sell the stolen cargo. Greg (who is jaded and arrogant) and a dimwitted action movie star named Danny Francesco (played by Josh Hartnett) have a platonic bromance that heats up during the course of the movie. It’s a one-note joke that quickly gets old. Orson and Sarah come up with a plan to enlist Danny’s help to spy on Greg, by having Sarah pose as Danny’s girlfriend when Greg invites Danny to stay at Greg’s luxurious estate in Cannes, France.

Greg has several generically shallow people in his entourage, including a scowling assistant named Emilia (played by Lourdes Faberes); other employees named Trent (played by Tom Rosenthal) and Arnold (played by Oliver Maltman); and hangers-on/friends named Alexander (played by Tim Seyfi), Dmitry (played by Ayhan Eroğlu), Yiv (played by Savaş Ak), Natalya (played by Oleksandra Zharikova) and Katya (played by Mishel Lazarenko). These characters have no real purpose in the movie except to possibly add to the inevitable body count of murdered people.

“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” has no shortage of glamorous-looking locations, as these characters zip around to places such as Morocco, Quatar and Turkey. But having pretty-looking scenery just looks like an ineffective distraction to a flimsy plot. The movie’s fight scenes are underwhelming, while the jokes mostly fall flat, despite Plaza and Grant making an effort to bring some personality to this hack job pretending to be a thrilling spy caper.

“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” rehashes the same outdated spy-movie ensemble stereotypes of having a group of protagonists consisting of several macho men and one token woman. And (sexist cliché alert) she has to use her sexuality to accomplish her work goals, while the men never have to use their sexuality to accomplish their work goals. Filmmakers who resort to these tired clichés, when there are so many other options that are fresh and innovative, just expose how backwards their mindsets are when it comes to how women are presented in their movies. “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” has several scenes that show off how much money was probably spent to film the movie in exotic or pricey locations. But make no mistake: “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is creatively bankrupt.

Lionsgate released “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” in U.S. cinemas on March 3, 2023. The movie was released in several other countries, beginning in January 2023.

Review: ‘Wrath of Man,’ starring Jason Statham

May 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Holt McCallany, Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Rocci Williams in “Wrath of Man” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Wrath of Man”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action flick “Wrath of Man” features a nearly all-male, predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A crime boss goes undercover as an armored truck driver to avenge the murder of his teenage son, who was killed during a heist of an armored truck.

Culture Audience: “Wrath of Man” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a predictable and violent movie with no imagination.

Raúl Castillo, Deobia Oparei, Jeffrey Donovan, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso and Scott Eastwood in “Wrath of Man” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

The fourth time isn’t the charm for director Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham in the vapid action flick “Wrath of Man,” their fourth movie together. It’s tedious and predictable junk filled with cringeworthy dialogue and stunts with no creativity. People who are familiar with Statham’s work already know that his movies are almost always schlockfests that are essentially about violence and car chases. However, Ritchie’s filmography is much more of a mixed bag. “Wrath of Man” isn’t Ritchie’s absolute worst film, but it’s a movie that could have been so much better.

Ritchie co-wrote the “Wrath of Man” screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson. The movie is based on the 2004 French thriller “Le Convoyeur,” directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and written by Boukhrief and Éric Besnard. Ritchie and Statham previously worked together on 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (Ritchie’s feature-film debut), 2000’s “Snatch” and 2005’s “Revolver.” Whereas those three movies had plenty of sly comedy with brutal action, “Wrath of Man” is so by-the-numbers and soulless, it seems like a computer program, not human beings, could’ve written this movie.

The movie’s simplistic plot could’ve been told in 90 minutes or less. Instead, it’s stretched out into a nearly two-hour slog with repetitive and unnecessary flashbacks. In “Wrath of Man,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Statham plays a mysterious crime boss who’s out to avenge the murder of his son Dougie (played by Eli Brown), who was about 17 or 18 and an innocent bystander when he was shot to death by a robber during a heist of an armored truck.

Dougie’s murder (which is not spoiler information) is shown in a flashback about halfway through the movie. Until then, viewers are left to wonder who Statham’s character really is when he shows up at the headquarters of Fortico Security to apply for a job working as a guard in an armored truck. When he applies for the job, he identifies himself has Patrick Hill, a divorcé with more than 25 years of security experience. Later, viewers find out that it’s an alias; his real last name is Mason.

But he was able to create an entire false identity as Patrick Hill, with documents provided by his trusty assistant Kirsty (played by Lyne Renée), one of the few women with a speaking role in this movie. The false identity includes phony job references and a fake job stint at the now-defunct Orange Delta Security, which was a well-known company. Based on this elaborate scheme, Patrick is easily able to get a job at Fortico.

Fortico is described in the movie as one of the top armored vehicle companies that does cash pickups and deliveries in the area. The company’s clients include retail department stores, marijuana dispensaries, cash vaults, casinos and private banks. On a typical pickup or delivery, there are two or three employees in the truck: a driver, a guard and/or a messenger. The company isn’t huge (it only has 12 trucks), but it’s very profitable. A Fortico truck haul can total around $15 million a day, sometimes more.

Patrick is trained by Hayden Blair (played by Holt McCallany), who goes by the nickname Bullet. Almost everyone Bullet works with directly seems to have a nickname, so he immediately gives Patrick the nickname H, an abbreviation of Hill. Patrick/H goes through the training process (including gun defense skills) and he barely gets passing grades. He’s assigned to work with a cocky driver named David Hancock (played by Josh Hartnett), whose nickname is Boy Sweat Dave. Another colleague is Robert Martin (played by Rocci Williams), whose nickname is Hollow Bob.

When Bullet introduces H to these two co-workers, Bullet says, “He’s H, like the bomb. Or Jesus H.” The bad dialogue doesn’t get any better. H is told that he’s replacing a co-worker named Sticky John (who came up with these cringeworthy nicknames?), who died during a heist that killed multiple employees. The robbers got away, so the Fortico employees on are on edge about this shooting spree, which they call the Gonzo Murders. Boy Sweat Dave says, “We ain’t the predators. We’re the prey.”

The insipid dialogue continues throughout the entire movie. In a scene with some Fortico workers off-duty in a bar, Boy Sweat Dave is playing pool with Dana Curtis (played by Niamh Algar), the token female on Fortico’s armored truck crew. Dana says sarcastically to Boy Sweat Dave: “The point of the game is to get the ball in the hole.” Boy Sweat Dave snaps back, “The point of a woman is to shut the fuck up, Dana.”

Dana replies, “Well, that Ivy League education is really working for you, Boy Sweat.” (How can you say a line like that with a straight face?) Boy Sweat Dave retorts, “Pretty soon, you’ll all be working for me. The power is in this big head here.” Dana snipes back, “Well, it’s definitely not in your little head. Or are you still blaming the beer?”

The character of Boy Sweat Dave is an example of how “Wrath of Man” wastes a potentially interesting character on silly dialogue. What kind of person with an Ivy League education wants to work as an armored truck driver, a job which doesn’t even require a high school education? Viewers never find out because Boy Sweat Dave is one of several characters in the movie who are shallowly introduced, just so there can be more people in the body count later.

And because Dana is H’s only female co-worker, this movie that treats women as tokens can’t let her be just a co-worker. No, she has to serve the purpose of fulfilling H’s sexual needs too, since he and Dana have a predictable fling/one night stand. He finds out something about her when he spends the night at her place that helps him unravel the mystery of who killed his son.

It isn’t long before Patrick/H experiences his first heist as a Fortico employee. He’s partnered with Boy Sweat Dave, who’s driving, while H is the lookout. The heist is unrealistically staged in the movie as one of those battles where one man (in this case, H) can take down several other men in a shootout where a Fortico employee has been taken hostage by the thieves. Post Malone fans (or haters) might get a kick out of the scene though, since he plays one of the nameless robbers who doesn’t last long in this movie. H has saved his co-workers’ lives in this botched heist, so he’s hailed as a hero by the company.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been looking for Patrick because he’s been an elusive crime boss. There are three FBI agents, all very uninteresting, who are on this manhunt: Agent Hubbard (played by Josh Cowdery), Agent Okey (played by Jason Wong) and their supervisor Agent King (played by Andy Garcia). Hubbard and Okey come in contact with Patrick/H, when they investigate the botched robbery where Patrick/H ended up as the hero.

Agent King orders Hibbard and Okey not to let on that they know H’s real identity and to keep tabs on why this crime boss is working at an armored truck company. Eddie Marsan, a very talented actor, has a very useless role in “Wrath of Man,” as an office assistant named Terry. Terry becomes suspicious of who H really is, because in his heroic rescue, H showed the type of expert combat skills that contradicts the mediocrity that he displayed in the company’s training.

And just who’s in this group of murderous thieves? They’re led by mastermind Jackson (played by Jeffrey Donovan), a married man with two kids who lives a double life. This seemingly mild-mannered family man works in a shopping mall. But he also apparently has time to lead a group of armored truck thieves, who pose as street construction workers when they commit their robberies. The robbers use a concrete mixer truck to block the armored truck and then ambush the people inside the armored truck.

What’s really dumb about “Wrath of Man” is that these armed robbers use the same tactic every time. In real life, repeating this very cumbersome way of committing an armed robbery would make them easier to catch, not harder. Apparently, these dimwits think that the best way to not call attention to yourself during a robbery is to haul out a giant concrete mixer truck.

Jackson’s crew consists of a bunch of mostly generic meatheads: Brad (played by Deobia Oparei), Sam (played by Raúl Castillo), Tom (played by Chris Reilly) and Carlos (played by Laz Alonzo), with Jan (played by Scott Eastwood) as the loose cannon in the group. Guess who pulled the trigger on Patrick/H/Mason’s son Dougie? Guess who’s going to have a big showdown at the end of the movie?

Of course, a crime boss has to have his own set of goons. Patrick/H/Mason has three thugs who are closest to him and who do a lot of his dirty work: Mike (played by Darrell D’Silva), Brendan (played by Cameron Jack) and Moggy (played by Babs Olusanmokun). There’s a vile part of the movie that shows Patrick/H/Mason ordering his henchman to beat up and torture anyone who might have information on who murdered Dougie. The operative word here is “might,” because some people who had nothing to do with the murder are brutally assaulted.

Mike has a conscience and he says that he won’t commit these vicious attacks anymore to try to find Dougie’s killer. Mike advises Patrick/H/Mason to think of another way to find the murderer. And that’s when Patrick/H/Mason got the idea to go “undercover” at Fortico, with the hope that he could catch the murderous thieves in their next heist on a Fortico truck.

And what do you know, this gang of thieves will be doing “one last heist” on a Fortico truck, to get a haul that’s said to be at least $150 million. What could possibly go wrong? You know, of course.

Ritchie’s previous film “The Gentlemen” (which was also about gangsters and theives) had a lot of devilishly clever dialogue and crackled with the type of robust energy that hasn’t been seen in his movies in years. And although “The Gentlemen” wasn’t a perfect film about criminal antics, it at least made the effort to have memorable characters and to keep viewers guessing about which character was going to come out on top. “Wrath of Man” is a completely lazy film that has no interesting characters, no suspense, and not even any eye-popping stunts. It’s just a silly shoot ’em up flick that’s as empty as Statham’s dead-eyed stares.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Pictures and Miramax Films will release “Wrath of Man” in U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2021.

Review: ‘The Gentlemen,’ starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding and Jeremy Strong

January 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Gentlemen
Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

“The Gentlemen”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Set in London, this group of predominantly white male characters (with a few Asians and black people), who are from the middle and upper classes, live on the edges of the law and are primarily motivated by greed and revenge.

Culture Clash: The characters in the “The Gentleman” constantly try to one-up and outsmart each other in their betrayals.

Culture Audience: “The Gentlemen” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about groups of criminals who mix dirty deals with aspirations to belong in the upper echelons of society.

Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

In case people might think British filmmaker Guy Ritchie was turning soft because he directed Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin,” he wants to remind everyone that he’s still capable of making the down’n’dirty British crime capers that made him a hot director, starting with his feature-film debut, 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (And then his ill-fated 10-year marriage to Madonna brought him another kind of fame: tabloid hell.)

With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to the theme that he seems to like best when he writes and directs a film—men behaving very badly. And who needs to have legal consequences? Ritchie makes it clear in his movies about drug dealers or gangsters that the harsh realities of police busts and courtroom appearances are pesky distractions that shouldn’t really get in the way of the story he really wants to tell, which is from the lawbreakers’ perspectives.

The movie’s title is quite cheeky, since the shady and sleazy characters in “The Gentlemen” act like anything but gentlemen. All of them are violent, and some of the Anglo characters spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks. There’s some content in this movie that’s truly twisted, including a bestiality scene that’s in the movie for laughs. The deviant act is not shown on screen, but what happened and who was involved are made very clear to viewers.

“The Gentlemen” has an all-star cast, but the movie really comes down to the sparring between two of the characters who want to be the alpha male who’ll outsmart them all. The two opponents are Michael “Mickey” Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant), who see themselves as brilliant manipulators who like to play people off each other like pawns in a chess game.

Mickey is an American who’s been a marijuana dealer in the United Kingdom, ever since he was a Rhodes Scholar student at Oxford University. He’s built up his business by renting out large estates worth millions and using the land to build underground areas for growing marijuana. His operation (which spans the entire nation) has grown to the point where he’s ready to sell it, now that marijuana might become legal in the United Kingdom.

Fletcher is a private investigator and aspiring screenwriter, who wants to tell Mickey’s story (and dirty secrets) in a movie screenplay that he’s writing. Fletcher describes the screenplay in vivid detail (which viewers see acted on screen) when he has a tense confrontation with Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (played by Charlie Hunnam). It’s a story-within-a-story conceit that works well in some areas of the movie, but gets too convoluted and messy in other areas. Fletcher tells Ray that the salacious details of the screenplay is Fletcher’s way of extorting £20 million from Mickey if he wants to keep Fletcher from spilling those secrets. Fletcher has found himself in Mickey’s orbit in the first place because Fletcher has been hired by a tabloid editor named Big Dave (payed by Eddie Marsan), who has a grudge against Mickey and wants Fletcher to dig up dirt on Mickey.

Viewers should know before seeing this movie that the hyper-absurd situations in the story basically serve to poke fun at the characters, who mostly think they’re smarter than everyone else in their world.  And make no mistake: This is definitely a man’s world, since Michelle Dockery (who plays Mickey’s Cockney-accented loyal wife, Rosalind, nicknamed Roz) is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie—and her screen time in the film is less than 20 minutes. Fletcher describes Roz as the “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s Cowboy Caesar.” It’s a fairly accurate description, since Roz’s scenes basically revolve around her sexuality, and Mickey’s scenes revolve around him asserting his power.

Mickey’s asking price for his marijuana operation is at least £400 million, and he finds a potential buyer in billionaire Matthew Berger (played by Jeremy Strong), another successful, upper-echelon drug dealer who’s been a longtime rival of Mickey’s. And there are some other sordid characters who are entangled in this spider web of a story. One of them is Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding), a gangster/wannabe mob boss who answers to his real mob boss, Lord George (played by Tom Wu). Their gang is also at odds with Mickey.

Then there’s deadpan henchman Coach (played by Colin Farrell), who’s somewhat of a mentor to a group of young thugs who like to video record their mischief-making and crimes while in disguise, take the footage, make them into rap videos, and post the videos on social media. The young hoodlums make the mistake of breaking into one of Mickey’s marijuana bunkers and stealing some of what’s stashed there, so Coach offers to make amends by doing favors for Mickey.

All of the stars of “The Gentlemen” do a very competent job with an often-verbose script, which requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the fight scenes—especially in an assault-weapon shootout aimed at a vehicle, where someone very unrealistically walks away unscathed. Grant’s Fletcher character has the best lines, and he’s the one who’s the least predictable. But many of the other characters (such as Ray, Dry Eye and Big Eddie) are very two-dimensional, and a few humorous one-liners don’t quite fill the voids in their personalities.

Put another way: Ritchie is no Martin Scorsese when it comes to gangster films. “The Gentlemen” tries to be a little too clever for its own good, but if you’re curious to see Ritchie’s take on a backstabbing criminal subculture, then “The Gentlemen” might be your stinging cup of tea.

STX will release “The Gentlemen” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2020.

 

 

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