‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Review: War, Undemanding

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I travel by air every couple of months, and always think about a single, burning question: What makes for a great airplane movie? Not movies about being on planes. Movies to be watched on planes, making bearable the three or nine hours spent in a tin can, squashed on all sides, munching tiny pretzels and trying not to order yet another gin and tonic.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” the latest offering from the director Guy Ritchie, is a perfect airplane movie. That is not a compliment, but it’s not exactly a dis. Some movies shouldn’t be watched on planes — slow artful dramas, or movies that demand concentration and good sound (please do not watch “The Zone of Interest” on your next flight). But you’ve got to watch something, and for that, we have movies like this one.

Ritchie didn’t always make airplane movies. His early work, frenetic and ribald and hilarious movies like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” begged to be watched in a room full of roaring audience members, or at least at home over pizza and beers with your friends. In more recent films like “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” he’s veered darker and more serious, the sort of thing that might make a flight even more tense.

But watching “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” which applies a frivolous touch to a serious matter (that is, defeating Nazis), I realized it embodied my three most important principles for airplane movies.

Principle I: Make It Familiar

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is a fictionalized account of a real thing that was only recently discovered. During World War II, in an effort to cripple German U-boats in the North Atlantic and also open the way for the Americans to join the war, Winston Churchill maybe-sorta-unofficially authorized a rogue band of daredevils to execute a delicate operation: Cut off resources to the Germans by sinking their supply ships. Unfortunately the refueling operations, accomplished via a few Italian boats, were parked on a Spanish-controlled island called Fernando Po, located just off the coast of West Africa — in neutral territory. An official British campaign would cause the rest of unaligned Europe to join up with the Nazis. So it had to be done in secret.

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