A “ruse de guerre” is an espionage tactic in which a party engages in unusual, unorthodox, and clever methods in order to achieve an act of deception. There are some cases where it comes from having some kind of superior knowledge or being aware of some unknown information that the enemy doesn’t know that you know, but it’s still an act of deception. Famous military leaders throughout history have employed this tactic, from Alexander the Great to Sun Tzu, it has been a part of active military warfare for millennia. Now, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre contextualizes it for the spy genre.
It makes sense after all. A spy should be someone who is able to deceive a target, and there is a lot of classic spy action inside here. However, it’s not exactly clever, unorthodox, or even all that intelligent. It’s a fairly straightforward thriller, but basic doesn’t mean bad. It just means that you shouldn’t go into it expecting a reinvention of the genre, but more so a solid execution of a concept you’ve seen before.
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Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre
Director: Guy Ritchie
Release Date: March 3, 2023 (Theatrical)
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre begins with a device known as “The Handle” being stolen from some unknown high-security scientific facility. What it does is a mystery and no one knows who stole it or what they want to do with it, but the British government believes that because they know so little about it, its theft is a threat to global stability and wants it safely recovered. The representative of the government, Nathan (Cary Elwes), in turn, hires Orson Fortune (Jason Statham), Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), and J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone) to track down where it went, discover what it is, and safely recover it, leading to a globe-trotting adventure that has the group encountering a whole host of colorful and eccentric personalities, including Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), a billionaire arms dealer who they believe to be in possession of “The Handle” and aiming to sell it to an undisclosed third party.
If I’m being frank, the beginning of the film is weak and incredibly haphazard. The film moves at a breakneck pace to introduce the cast as quickly as possible, and shepherd them around the globe from England to Morocco to Madrid to Los Angeles all in the span of about 10 to 15 minutes. The audience is never given any time to breathe or even establish what is happening. The film just throws information at the wall and hopes that some of it will stick to you and using its lavish shots of the various cities to disguise how poorly its conveying the stakes of the mission.
What doesn’t help is the general casualness of the cast. Jason Statham normally is fairly charismatic, but Fortune himself feels very one-dimensional. He’s gruff and wants to get done with this job so he can go back on vacation. Sarah is quirky and says weird things. There’s also an overt familiarness that most of the characters have with each other that would normally be fine if the film spent time to properly introduce its characters, but sadly doesn’t. The worst example of this is with a rival covert ops mercenary group led by a guy named Mike (Peter Ferdinando), whom Fortune and Nathan have a clear disdain for that never gets fleshed out in any meaningful way. They just groan whenever Mike pops up, but because we don’t really know who he is, I don’t care when he appears.
But once the movie reaches Cannes about a half hour into the movie, the film finally decides to slow down and lets its characters breathe. Fortune and Sarah are able to display their spy skills and with the assistance of a Hollywood actor they blackmailed into joining them and start to schmooze and track down all of the info they need on “The Handle.” What helps the most is that it allows them to stay around Hugh Grant more, who is an absolute delight in the film. Every scene he’s in allows him to chew the scenery and has him bounce around from being an eccentric rich goofball to an intimidating arms dealer that isn’t afraid to go scorched earth to prove a point. He’s able to play both sides of the character really well and it’s in those more serious moments that his character really shines.
The more casual banter begins to pay off as well since now we’re far more familiar with the crew and their mission. The film always keeps us at arm’s length away from the characters as actual people, firmly keeping them as spies doing covert ops action. It’s honestly a bit of a throwback to more classic spy thrillers of the 60s where there wasn’t really too much of a focus on the spy as people but rather as spies. There are plenty of scenes involving lying to targets, hacking with gadgets, tracking people of interest, and very little in terms of action. Even when there is action, it’s very restrained and efficient, giving you just enough action to keep audiences entertained but never too much where it distracts from the actual covert nature of this covert ops.
However, while the second half of Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is far better, it’s by no means perfect. The revelation of what “The Handle” is as well as who the true villains of the film are is telegraphed fairly early on to the point that anyone could piece it together if they were just paying basic attention. It doesn’t really change how the mission plays out, but it’s deflating when the ultimate reveal of what’s going on just comes across as a simple reskin of one of the most prolific evil plans of one of the greatest spy films of all time. Then again, the phrase “it’s not the destination it’s the journey” does apply here because even though the finale is underwhelming at times, it still delivers just the right amount of value to be entertaining.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is not a revelation, but rather a throwback to a simpler era of spy films. It keeps its expectations in check and while I wish the beginning of the film wasn’t as sloppy as it is, it eventually settles into a groove and allows the cast to really play off each other. That may be because Hugh grant is such a fun actor to work off of or it may be because the characters feel more comfortable dishing out snide remarks and witty banter, but it doesn’t change that the film gets better as it goes on. Yes, it’s fairly conventional and is going to pale when compared to more bombastic spy thrillers like the Mission: Impossible series, but it’s still a fun adventure that I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to eventually. Between this, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, The Gentlemen, and Wrath of Man, Guy Ritchie seems to have found his niche of delivering basic and well-put-together spy thrillers.