“OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE”
Starring Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Hugh Grant, Cary Elwes, Josh Hartnett, Peter Ferdinando, Eddie Marsan, Bugzy Malone
Written by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Produced by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Bill Block
Cinematography by Alan Stewart
Edited by James Herbert
Music by Christopher Benstead

By Matt Neufeld
March 2, 2023

Finally, we have the truly great, classic Bond film we’ve been waiting for during the last seventeen years. Well, technically, it’s not actually a Bond film, in the sense that it’s not actually officially part of the long-running movie franchise featuring writer Ian Fleming’s suave British spy James Bond. But Guy Ritchie’s new, excellent film “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is indeed the best spy thriller action adventure film of the last seventeen years. Really. The rollicking, fun, funny, action-packed, suspenseful and entertaining film is also a clear example of what most of the Daniel Craig-era Bond films from 2006 to 2021 should have been.

For the record, “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is better than any of the “John Wick” movies and it’s better than all of the overdone, slightly annoying “Mission Impossible” movies. And “Fortune,” yes, even bests several of those Craig-era Bond films.

Ritchie’s been on a great roll in recent years with entertaining, suspenseful spy and heist action-adventure movies that deftly, slyly capture that Bond aesthetic, and “Operation Fortune” definitely continues that streak. The movie ably includes, to a great effect, all of the elements necessary for a classic spy intrigue action adventure thriller: super cool, suave, dapper and genuinely likeable and classically heroic spies and intelligence agency agents; a mysterious, dangerous rogue’s gallery of shifty operatives, double agents, informants, rogues, renegades, soldiers of fortune (pun intended), henchmen, outlaws, femme fatales and hired guns; a harem of beautiful, sexy, exotic, strong and smart women; equally exotic, far-flung, breathtaking, worldly locales and locations; nifty, if somewhat unbelievable, high-techno gadgets, gizmos and thingamajigs; evil dastardly villains intent on either taking over the world or at least getting incredibly rich; loads of well-done action, chase, gunfight, stunt and fight scenes; intriguing and slightly mysterious plots and stories that keep viewers guessing; plenty of geo-political, cold war-ish governmental and political backroom office spy game playing; and plenty of diabolical crosses, double crosses and even triple crosses.

All of that, and more, are indeed joyfully present and accounted for in “Operation Fortune.” And to director, co-writer and co-producer Ritchie’s commendable credit, “Fortune” ably and confidently succeeds as a strong, sturdy, classic spy thriller full of all of these familiar filmic elements with no clear or present danger of coming across as cliched or tired. If the sum of all of your fears about this movie are that the film would be just another assembly-line spy movie, you can put those fears to rest, and rest assured that, currently, with modern-day spy films, nobody does it better at keeping the genre fresh and new than Ritchie. “Fortune” does overcome any filmic obstacles and flies high as a grounded, lively modern-day spy film.

That’s a credit to the film’s classy, stylish, dazzling and high-end production values; Ritchie’s tight, swift-but-not-too-swift, confident and controlled direction; superb editing, timing and pacing that constantly keeps the film moving forward as a spy thriller action adventure film should move forward; a keenly knowing, insightful, clever, fun and thoroughly modern-day script that keeps the story, plot, sub-plots and dialogue grounded in modern times but also firmly rooted in classic spy/intrigue/suspense/action-adventure stylings; and a great cast of talented, attractive, smart, wholly likeable actors who are all firing strongly at the very tops of their games.

Get up off those couches and easy chairs, get away from those crazily over-sized living room television monstrosities, invest in the time and the money, and head out to the theaters–real movie theaters–and enjoy “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” this first weekend of March, 2023. The movie opens wide nationwide on Friday, March 3, 2023.

“Fortune,” solidly set in the present, tells the story of a daring heist of a highly secret, yet highly valued–to the tune of ten billion dollars–and subsequently highly-sought-after mysterious and potentially dangerous high-tech object that could pose worldwide military, intelligence, political, financial and defense problems. This, deservedly so, quite concerns the British government, and intelligence officials known as Knighton and as Nathan Jasmine promptly assemble a crack team of their best agents to track down the object, find out who stole it, determine why it was stolen and figure out just what the dern thing actually is and does, and, while they’re at it, save the world, too.

The spy team is a small one–just three people and a supervisor. But, in this case, as with the best Bond or spy adventures, a good spy movie only needs a few good men and women spies. That’s where smart casting comes in. The ace team of agents, and their operatives, in “Fortune” is the center of the film, and Ritchie and co-producers Ivan Atkinson and Bill Block have cast well.

The always-captivating Jason Statham leads the cast, the movie and the team as the suave, dapper and understated–except when he’s kicking royal butt against the bad guys–Orson Fortune. Statham has a most interesting and unusual presence and acting style. He captivates, he does have presence, and he can be tough, classy, enthralling and even funny, but it all sneaks up on you in that Stathamesque deadpan manner. It’s a lot of Eastwood’s man of a few words, Reynolds’ macho bravura and sex appeal, a bit of McQueen and Coburn and Dalton and Brosnan cool, with just a dash of Moore and Connery snark and humor, mixed with plenty of Chan, Lee and Li martial arts kick-royal-butt expertise. And Statham stylishly, cooly plays Fortune with just the right mix of all of the above.

Every super spy needs his team of computer whizzes, sharpshooters, seducers and alarmingly beautiful, sexy women, of course. And, man, did Ritchie, Atkinson and Block score a coup with landing the, yes, beautiful, sultry, crazily distinctive, slightly eccentric and downright dangerously sexy Aubrey Plaza as Fortune’s American computer tech pro, seductress and all-around spy royale Sarah Fidel. This, now, today, is Aubrey Plaza’s time, the world is not enough for Aubrey Plaza, we are only living in Aubrey Plaza’s world, and, dare it be suggested, this movie is Plaza’s best role and character and movie yet. Plaza simply shines, glows and flat-out stuns as the super spy Fidel in this movie. Yes, she is beautiful and sexy–and there’s nothing wrong with saying that because that is exactly what she is–but Fidel is also clearly highly intelligent, savvy, a creative thinker and self-assured, and she’s surely no one’s “girl” or girl Friday. Plaza’s Fidel is clearly and confidently, as one of the characters in the movie wryly observes, “a modern woman.”

And, damn is it fun to see Plaza and her character soundly and confidently just hold her own, succeed, impress, and work as an equal in this usually male-dominated spy world. Of course, there’s always been strong covert female spies in film, going all the way back to the thirties and forties. Even several Bond, Bourne and other spy franchise women were independent, tough and formidable. And there’s been scores of tough, independent female soldiers of fortune in action adventure thrillers through the decades. But Plaza’s Fidel is just unique, and that’s due mainly to Plaza’s unique talents, charms, beauty, smarts, sultryness, sexiness and abilities as a truly distinctive actress.

Bugzy Malone is a bit more understated, in a solid, tough way, as the third main team member, J.J. Davies. But Davies is pretty good with computers, too, and he’s an impressive sharpshooter, too. Malone’s generally quiet Davies plays well with Statham’s tough leading man bravura and Plaza’s scene-stealing exotic, glamorous presence and sex appeal.

Eddie Marsan is a great modern-day M-like intelligence agency leader, Knighton, whose job seems to be the same as every other intelligence/defense/law enforcement/agency leader in every spy, action adventure and cop movie since the invention of film: Yell at his team, yell at his other agency officials, yell at the meddling politicians and yell at just about everyone else. But Marsan, too, is a talented actor and he takes what, again, could be a cliched character and makes him his own. And, anyways, considering the very real danger that the world and the team faces because of the nature of the stolen object that everyone in the spy community seems to be chasing, Knighton can be forgiven.

Most of Knighton’s yelling is directed at fellow spy agency official Nathan Jasmine, hilariously played by Cary Elwes. Elwes is simply having a grand ol’ time, playing the by-the-book, bottom-line-watching, bureaucratic bureaucrat, strictly upper-crust, finely-tailored spymaster who is the official team leader of Fortune, Fidel and Davies. It’s also quite funny to see Jasmine and Fortune bicker and banter back and forth while they’re also trying to save the world. Yes, shades of Bond bickering with M and Q. But dashing, daring heroes have, again, been bickering with their spy and military and political bosses long before Fortune, Bond, Bourne, Wick, Helm, Flint or whomever.

Ritchie and talented co-writers Atkinson and Marn Davies have reserved room for several other quite entertaining characters, too. Prominently, Hugh Grant digs in deep and comes up with one of his best roles in ages. Grant steals several scenes and comes close to stealing the entire movie as billionaire sleazeball mover and shaker businessman and underground operative and shady dealer Greg Simmonds. Simmonds is one of those rich playboy slimeball businessmen who has so much money, his entire being, mind, heart and soul have become corrupted by greed, power, arrogance and more power. But Grant’s Simmonds has somehow retained some element of humanity, making him a great foil for spies like Fortune, Fidel and Davies. Once again, it’s just empowering, and hilarious, to watch Plaza’s knowing Fidel ward off and put down Simmonds’ lecherous flirtations. Simmonds even gets a kick out of Fidel’s toughness, and he’s the one who credits her with being that tough modern-day woman.

But Simmonds also has a non-sexual man-crush bro-crush on the goofball, self-centered movie star Danny Francesco, hilariously played by Josh Hartnett. Francesco is a clever in-joke send-up of a few of the world’s various egotistical, out-of-control diva movie star actors–all bluster and ego but, well, a few bullets short of a gunfight when it comes to intellectual prowess. What is a comic-relief movie star character doing amid spies and agents and operatives? That clever twist will be left for the viewer to find out–but the plot twist involving Francesco is clever–and funny.

“Operation Fortune” also benefits from clear, non-muddled, fluid, action-oriented and exciting camera work from cinematographer Alan Stewart; great action-adventure editing from James Herbert; and a solid, fast-paced musical score from Christopher Benstead. And much credit should go to the movie’s fight choreographers, martial arts advisors, pyrotechnic handlers, stuntmen, stunt drivers and action sequence directors. There’s close-up martial arts fight scenes, gunfights, motorcycle chases, foot chases, more fight scenes, explosions and fistfights. Yet it’s all done so well, it’s not cliched, it’s exciting, and the action sequences, like in any good thriller, come into play at just the right times to balance out all of that spycraft intrigue and espionage.

Kudos, also, to the movie’s production designers, art directors, set decorators, costumers and special effects artists. “Fortune” consistently looks and feels like a high-class project.

With “Operation Fortune,” Guy Ritchie is continuing a recent stellar run of writing, directing and producing above-average spy and heist thrillers. This impressive run of quality movies includes 2015’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” 2019’s “The Gentlemen,” and 2021’s “Wrath of Man.” And, believe it or not, Ritchie has another movie coming out in April, 2023—-another action thriller called “The Covenant.”

With Guy Ritchie creating several of the best spy and action-adventure films in recent years, and with Kenneth Branagh creating several of the best drama and mystery films in recent years, it’s heartening to see these masters succeeding at full force. And with Steven Spielberg and James Cameron also continuing to succeed at full force, that’s also heartening. There’s hundreds of others producing, directing and writing good films today, too, of course, but it’s always a good reason to celebrate whenever these seasoned masters of film like Ritchie, Branagh, Spielberg and Cameron continue to deliver the magic.

We need all of the magic we can get up on the silver screens in real movie theaters these days, and it’s always nice to celebrate some positive filmic fortune. For the weekend of March 3-5, 2023, and for subsequent week nights and weekends, some of that good fortune can definitely be found, and enjoyed, with “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.”

Tomorrow never dies.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.