Forget the slightly convoluted plot and title – it was once called ‘Five Eyes’, which presumably sounded too much like an optician – because Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is Guy Ritchie’s best film for many moons. It’s an espionage caper delivered with breezy confidence by a fine comic cast. MVP is Hugh Grant, capping his hero’s journey from foppish leading man to high-camp villain with a wonderfully slimy turn as a leering arms dealer called Greg Simmonds.
Satisfyingly, Operation Fortune prioritises style over fiddly structure (substance is never the point with Ritchie films). There are the usual plot feints and an ever-swelling stack of bodies, often accompanied with a glib payoff line. And sure, there’s a ‘Somewhat Scary Dmitri’ in there and Jason Statham punches a lot of people – this is still a Guy Ritchie movie – but it’s a snappy, fun watch. It barrels along with an almost Hitchcockian confidence as a crack team of British spies tackles Simmonds, some rogue agents and, in a piece of very-pre-2022 screenwriting, some Ukrainian mobsters (oops).
Cary Elwes’s MI6 spymaster sets these no-nonsense operatives on the trail of a potentially deadly McGuffin. It’s fallen into the hands of Grant’s unscrupulous weapons dealer and crack spy Orson Fortune (Statham) is handed a scratch team to get it back. Aubrey Plaza is a snarky Q-alike tech whiz and Bugzy Malone is the cocksure weapons guy.
The outfit has a trick up its sleeve – the ‘ruse de guerre’ of the title – to inveigle its way into Simmonds’ inner circle: they have dirt on the arms dealer’s favourite film star, Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), that forces him along for the ride. Soon, an unlikely bromance is taking shape between movie star and arms baron, as Ritchie has fun with the delicious idea that Hollywood stars will hang out with literally anyone prepared to stroke their ego enough. Hartnett sells it perfectly.
Hugh Grant caps his hero’s journey from foppish leading man to high-camp villain
After a small-scale opening, the second half ramps up the action and exotic locations. But it’s the performances that make it such a fun watch: Grant plays the whole thing like he’s in a Roger Moore Bond, which he kinda is. And Statham is his usual deadpan self as a character pretty similar to the pompous secret agent he plays in Spy (‘I’ve swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer!’). Plaza is a blast, too, as the pisstaking American agent who thinks her boss is an idiot.
After the self-satisfied The Gentlemen and the slick but sparkless Wrath of Man, it’s a nice reminder that at his best, Ritchie remains an accomplished teller of tall tales.
In US theaters Mar 3. Streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK, Ireland and France Apr 7