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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

World War II films come in many varieties. Some showcase the incredible moral courage of unsung heroes. Others explore the grim, hellish reality of war. And occasionally, some simply show characters mowing down countless Nazi soldiers with machine guns while manically laughing and exchanging quippy dialogue. Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare falls firmly into that last camp. Despite an opening “Based on a True Story” title card, the film is a pulpy action flick in historical clothing. While lacking any real depth or emotion, the film offers some action-packed entertainment.  

Director Guy Ritchie frequently makes “Guy Ritchie” films. His distinctive style is characterized by snappy dialogue, quick camera cuts, and quirky characters. It’s a style I often enjoy (you can still find me shouting from the rooftops that 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a criminally underrated gem). All the patented “Guy Ritchie” characteristics are present and accounted for here, although the overall effort feels a bit tired and lacks its usual energy. At times, Ungentlemanly Warfare almost feels like someone else trying to make a “Guy Ritchie film” rather than the genuine thing.  

That’s not to say that the film isn’t entertaining. Despite its shortcomings, this is a fun movie. In fact, entertainment seems to be its sole purpose. Ungentlemanly Warfare is a “popcorn” flick not only because it’s designed to be enjoyed while munching on the popular snack but because the movie itself has much in common with that classic movie theater treat. Popcorn is something we eat out of boredom rather than hunger. While it lacks any real nutritional value, it’s at least not as bad as many other junk food options. Likewise, Ungentlemanly Warfare is largely empty entertainment. While it contains some notable content—trivialized violence and the occasional profanity or sexual joke—it’s not brimming with as much junk as might be expected from an R-rated action flick.    

Despite a 2-hour runtime, the film maintains a brisk pace, incorporating enough action (and a great soundtrack) to keep it entertaining. It quickly establishes the characters and sends them on their mission.  

Henry Cavil has enough leading-man charisma to carry the film, even if his character is left undeveloped. In fact, none of the characters have much depth beyond their defining role on the team. For example. Alan Ritchson is the forceful one who enjoys killing. A simple backstory is mentioned, but all audiences really need to know is that he’s the big dude who kills with a bow and arrow. He’s joined by “the strategy” guy, “the explosives” guy, and so on. They’re all largely interchangeable and given essentially the same backstory—Nazis killed someone they care about and now they want to kill Nazis.  

Not all movies must be deeply moving or probe complex themes and ideologies. Sometimes films exist merely to entertain people for a few hours. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is not a complex film, and I’m not entirely sure it’s even a very good one. But it offers diverting fun and entertainment. The “violence as spectacle” approach may give some Christians cause for concern, but the movie is refreshing in its simplicity. It doesn’t get bogged down in trying to be anything other than a simple action flick.      

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Doing the Right Thing Without Reward      

The film contains a subtext about racism and discrimination toward black and Jewish characters, but I admit that finding any “beneath the surface” themes or ideologies in this film is difficult. At risk of attempting to sermonize a pulpy action film, perhaps the protagonists’ greatest virtue is their willingness to make sacrifices without hope of personal reward or recognition.   

Admittedly, their motivations are somewhat muddy. Do they persevere on the seemingly impossible mission for the good of England (and the world), or merely due to a personal vendetta? When they complete their mission and face jail time rather than a reward, a bystander remarks that they may not be remembered as fondly as they deserve. To that, Henry Cavil’s character responds, “I don’t think that’s what any of us were in this for.” Despite their pivotal role in the war effort, they will remain unsung and unpraised, yet they are ultimately satisfied with the good they accomplished.    

In the Bible, Jesus condemned people whose good deeds were motivated by the desire for praise, and he urged his followers to act privately and without hope of earthly rewards: “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6).

Cathartic Violence    

Director Quentin Tarantino has often spoken about “cathartic violence” and how violent movies allow viewers to purge violent emotions in a controlled setting. Others have disagreed, arguing that such super-sized doses of violence are desensitizing (at best) and radicalizing (at worst). The debate can be traced back as far as the differing perspectives the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle had of the Greek theater. Viewers will likely have their own opinion. My point is not to pick a side in the debate, only to note that this movie clearly operates in line with Tarantino. The “good guys” arguably showcase more brutality and violence than their enemies do. But because such violence is being reaped on the “bad guys,” it is depicted as a crowd-pleasing spectacle, inviting audiences to take glee in the misfortune and grisly end of these nameless Nazis.   

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