Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre (2023) - Movie Review

After the pleasing return to form in The Gentlemen, I was fully on-board for Guy Ritchie to keep making movies I could fuck with again. After the painfully mediocre snoozer Wrath Of Man, I am now also prepared for Ritchie to still be capable of underperforming as he had for quite a while before The Gentlemen. Out of a want to just see something simple and engaging (I’ve spent a good amount of January stuck at home with a fractured arm, hence my lack of activity lately), I’m still willing to give this one a chance, although it could go either way. And what I ended up getting was not only a weird combination of his last two films, but also of elements from his 2010s output.

Like with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., this has Ritchie going full Mission: Impossible-style American spy caper, pitting Jason Statham’s Orson Fortune (man, even for films like this, that’s a damn goofy name) as the leader of a clandestine team of operatives going after a MacGuffin. Almost-literally, since the impetus of the story is that none of them even know what the thing is, and when it is revealed, it remains such a nebulous thing that they probably should have kept it vague. Hell, with the comedic tone of the story, that could’ve made for some nice Burn After Reading vibes.

Speaking of the humour on display, the cast here is… mostly able to do justice to Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies’ dialogue. Statham coasts on his typical hard-arse persona, and does alright with it, Cary Elwes as his handler gives the production a much-needed dry delivery, Hugh Grant is at his leathery camp routine again like with The Gentlemen (ditto for being a pseudo-avatar for Ritchie himself with how film-fixated his character is), and Josh Hartnett works nicely opposite him as the stereotypical movie star.

The only real sticking point here is Aubrey Plaza, although I admit that I seem to be in the minority when it comes to her screen persona. Personally, between the Hollywood Hacker tropes she’s been given, and the way she stretches out just-okay jokes until they’re genuinely annoying, she didn’t do much for me. Again, much like Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ritchie turned the only main female character here into the most annoying of them all; it’s getting a bit suspicious now.

As for the spy capering on its own, the pacing is… weird. It’s got all the globetrotting plans of an M:I entry but, even considering the lighter tone of the production, there’s a lot of sag to the attempts at tension here. This is a bombastic Americanised espionage story, not a John Le Carre adaptation; this having a leisurely pace makes about as much sense to me as orange-flavoured toothpaste. The action scenes are admittedly well-done, and show Ritchie having some real synergy with DP Alan Stewart and editor James Herbert… but even that shows some cracks.

On one hand, the film is bookended by some pretty solid film craft, from the opening synchronising Elwes’ walking with the soundtrack, to the finale where Hugh Grant once again stakes his claim as the best part of a Guy Ritchie film. And on the other hand, there’s a fight scene in the middle where Statham runs into some guards, and then the film cuts to after the fight happens, only to flash back to it later. This may be a better fit for Ritchie’s sensibilities than when he attempted King Arthur, but his reliance on non-linear storytelling still seems to be holding him back.

When all is said and done, I can definitely say that I enjoyed this more than Wrath Of Man. The cast both look like they’re having fun and let the audience have fun watching them, there are flashes of style in how Ritchie puts the film together, and more times than not, it’s funny when it tries to be. But for as much as this shows Ritchie still doing what he does best, continuing his recent artistic resurgence, it’s just as evident that his older mistakes are still haunting him.

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