Wednesday 21 September 2022

Movie Review: Operation Mincemeat (2021)

A spy drama, Operation Mincemeat benefits from the real story's ingenuity, but suffers from distracted padding.

The setting is Britain in 1943, with the Allies readying an invasion of Sicily. Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and intelligence officer Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) are placed in charge of an audacious operation to deceive the Germans into believing Greece is the actual invasion target. The plan hinges on planting the dead body of a supposed British military officer on the beaches of Spain as a victim of a plane crash, with "secret" papers in his briefcase revealing the invasion plans. 

The operation receives Churchill's support, but head of intelligence Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) remains sceptical. Ewen and Charles are supported by loyal assistant Hester (Penelope Wilton) and researcher Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald). With Ewen's marriage in trouble and his family out of the country, he develops an attraction towards Jean. Godfrey further complicates matters by pressuring Charles into spying on Ewen's brother, a suspected communist sympathizer.

Directed by John Madden and written by Michelle Ashford, Operation Mincemeat enjoys elegant production values, a capable cast, and a strong sense of time and place. The remarkable real events helped shape World War Two's destiny, and ensure inherent narrative power and persistent engagement. The so-bizarre-it-may-work idea of finding a random drowned corpse and creating a waterproof backstory to fool the enemy propels the best scenes.

But the film leans too far towards surrounding the central plot with human interest. The stifled love triangle between Ewen, Jean, and Charles persistently gets in the way. The subplot of Charles seeking to repatriate his deceased war hero brother and succumbing to Godfrey's pressure tactics to spy on Ewen barely flickers. The running time meanders over two hours, too often focusing on the wrong things, the actual operation frequently marginalized.

The lack of balance defangs the drama, and the final act suffers the most. Once the planted dead body washes up in Spain, Madden has to rush through a haze of barely defined Spanish officials, German agents, and British emissaries to track the fake intelligence's progress towards Hitler's desk. The main characters are reduced to standing around waiting for the clack of incoming messages. Some scattered bits of tension survive, but with the historical outcome well known, the resolution is content with fading out.

Colin Firth holds his ground and delivers an upright performance, and Matthew Macfadyen is a capable deputy. Kelly Macdonald finds a range of understated emotions portraying a resourceful woman stepping up to the table but also uncertain about Ewen's romantic intentions. A bit of humour is thrown in through the character of James Bond creator Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), a supporting member of the intelligence team.

Neither shaken nor stirred, Operation Mincemeat is serviceably mixed with overstuffed olives.

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