It’s always refreshing to watch a movie that knows it’s never going to be nominated for a single Oscar or earn any clout as a genre revolutionary, and yet executes its story well, in refreshing ways, and entertains us for a couple hours in the process. Few filmmakers have been able to consistently excel at making these types of movies. Guy Ritchie has made a career out of it.
Spanning nearly three decades of creativity, the director’s catalog features very few bad films and even his below-average endeavors are somewhat fun. His latest, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, has several of his hallmarks, for better or worse: the cheeky banter, the meticulous and fluid fight sequences, the unrealistically high expectations for what an audience is capable of processing during a popcorn flick. However, this may be his worst film yet.
As far as explaining things to the audience, Operation Fortune isn’t the most confusing movie that Ritchie’s made, but it’s perhaps the most needlessly confusing. Jason Statham plays Orson Fortune, a combat spy contracted by the British government to track down and stop the transaction of a dangerous AI program that can essentially control the world. It’s believed that a billionaire named Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant) is about to sell it for around $10 billion, and so Fortune is given a super team of agents for the job, including tech genius Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) and expert marksman J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone).
They also utilize famous actor Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) as a trojan horse to trap Simmonds, who’s a big fan. Pretty straightforward, yeah? Well, as far as the director (and co-writer) is concerned, it’s a little too straightforward.
Ritchie has always tried, and sometimes failed, at finding the fine line between discursive exposition and challenging his audience. And you actually come to expect it. Unfortunately, the problem with his newest project may be embedded deeper into the script itself, written by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies. We get the illusion of importance, which has us hanging on to the plot despite knowing very little about why we need to care. Even the British government isn’t entirely sure what this elusive $10 billion device is and does until later on. Nonetheless, we’re treated to a deluge of information each scene by characters filling us in on their complicated strategy, which seems to evolve faster than we can keep up every step of the way.
Making matters worse, these characters never feel lived in. We like Statham and Plaza and Hartnett, but never believe their problems are real because they’re written as inserted archetypes that seem to exist whether or not their co-stars are present; like each of them is the star of three separate movies that we’re now watching simultaneously. Statham, as the lead (and title character!), never truly commands the role. Plaza’s Inspector Clouseau routine is fun, but she always feels like a protagonist stuck in a supporting role. And Hartnett is never much more than a satire on the one-note Hollywood superstar, albeit an entertaining one.
The one exception is Hugh Grant, who plays a quite complicated villain with a specialized relationship with each of the other three stars. Unlike a typical megalomaniac billionaire in cinema, Simmonds never gets offended when he’s betrayed, he never wields a pistol or threatens with violence, and he never loses his cool. He just wants his money at the end of the day and views everything as transactional. And yet, it’s not until later on that we realize it had simply been Grant’s intimidating persona that convinced us, erroneously, that he ever had any bite at all. But also, he never even really had a bark.
Grant trades his typical posh accent for a cockney one, channeling the idiosyncrasies from his performance in Ritchie’s 2019 film The Gentlemen. Although Ritchie’s approach, along with that of his co-writers, deserves special praise for delivering Grant’s character sans tropes.
Still, at its best, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre feels like a different filmmaker doing an imitation of a Guy Ritchie movie. Even the director’s typical stylization is curiously lackluster here. We manage to trust Ritchie all the way to the final act. However, by then he leaves us on a sinking ship with no vests. The ending is far too abrupt, if not anticlimactic, and we truly feel abandoned by the filmmaker in a way I can’t recall ever experiencing in an action thriller before. Any proper action fan should be frustrated with the execution of this denouement.
If we didn’t know otherwise, it would almost seem as though the acclaimed director were trying to launch his very own James Bond-like spy thriller franchise with Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. Given it’s reception, though, the possibility for future subtitled adventures isn’t looking too hot. After a fumbled release attempt a year prior (essentially, they made the Ukrainians the bad guys at the wrong time) and a disappointing theatrical run, it may be a while before any of Ritchie’s theoretical plans come to fruition. It’s a shame though because I, for one, would love to have seen what he would have done with it. There is promise when considering what he’s capable of.