Operation Mincemeat (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): One fantastic deception operation

“Operation Mincemeat”, which was released on Netflix in US while released in theaters in case of South Korea a few days ago, is a standard World War II drama movie which does its job a bit better than expected. Although we all know how the story ends, the movie is fairly engaging thanks to its efficient handling of story and characters, and it is also supported well by a bunch of reliable performers who bring some spirit and personality to their roles. The overall result does not do more than meeting our expectation, but it accomplishes its main goals at least, and I gladly went along with that when I watched it on this Saturday morning.

The movie, which is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Ben Macintyre, focuses a successful British deception operation of World War II which functioned as the crucial decoy for the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. At that time, the Allied really needed to divert the attention of their opponents from Sicily, and that was how the Naval Intelligence Division of Britain came to concoct a rather fantastic deception operation. For this operation, they actually used the corpse of some dead dude, and, as depicted in the film, this dude was carefully disguised as a military officer carrying a supposedly top-secret document.

In the beginning, the movie introduces to us its several main characters one by one. As supervised by Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Issacs) from the above, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), a prominent barrister who recently joined the Naval Intelligence Division after his ‘retirement’, comes to handle the operation along with Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfayden), and they and several other figures including Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton), who has incidentally been Montagu’s longtime assistant, and Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) soon embark on the first step of their operation once it is sanctioned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Simon Russell Beale). First, they must quickly find any corpse suitable for their operation, and, to our little amusement, that turns out to be rather hard as they contact with a number of morticians in London.

Eventually they find the corpse of a recently deceased young vagrant, and the movie gives us a series of humorous moments as Montagu and his team members work together for putting a flawless fake identity onto this dead body, who is going to be “Major William Martin”. Because it seems that this dead vagrant has no direct family member at all, making the false identity for him is pretty easy, but they need to embellish this false identity as much as possible for deceiving their enemy, so Montagu and his team members diligently work on concocting many believable details into the life and career of “Major Martin”. For instance, they decide to include the photograph of a dear girlfriend for “Major Martin” in addition to many other fake personal items, and Leslie willingly becomes that girlfriend in exchange of getting more involved in the operation.

As she and Montagu collaborate with each other more on putting extra fake details into “Major Martin”, they cannot help but feel more of the mutual attraction between each other, but Leslie belatedly comes to realize that their romantic period will not last that long. As already shown to us at the beginning, Montagu is a married guy, and Leggett later reminds Leslie sharply that he will never leave his wife at any chance because of his loyalty and integrity.

Meanwhile, the mood becomes more intense and serious as the time for the operation is approaching day by day. As a fastidious man who always suspects and worries, Admiral Godfrey still has some reservation about the success of the operation, and Cholmondeley becomes conflicted when he is instructed to watch on Montagu just because of one possible problem in Montagu’s private life. Despite these and other unexpected setbacks, Montagu and his team keep trying anyway, and the story eventually culminates to the climactic part where they are all quietly but nervously waiting for the outcome of their operation.

Around that narrative point, the screenplay by Michelle Ashford comes to lose some of its momentum as heading to its expected ending, but the movie still engages us at least under director John Madden’s competent direction. While a brief part depicting the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily is rather redundant in my humble opinion, that functions as another remind of what is being at stake for not only its main characters but also thousands of Allied soldiers out there, and you may also appreciate how the movie humbly makes its exit as showing some care and respect to “Major Martin”.

Like any other solid British historical drama films, the movie is packed with a number of talented performers, and their ensemble work is splendid to say the least. While Colin Firth firmly holds the center as required, Matthew Macfadyen, Penelope Wilton, and Kelly Macdonald have each own moment to shine, and Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss, and Simon Russell Beale are also well-cast in their respective parts. As Ian Fleming, who was actually another real-life key member in the operation, Johnny Flynn does not have much to do except doing the narration in the film, but you will be amused by several scenes reflecting the sources of inspiration for those James Bond novels written by Fleming.

In conclusion, “Operation Mincemeat” may not distinguish enough among many other World War II flicks, but its 2-hour running time passes well with enough entertainment, and it also made me a bit interested in checking out the 1956 British film “The Man Who Never Was” someday, which was also based on the same real-life story. As your average reserved skeptic, I do not expect much, but I hope that film is as entertaining as “Operation Mincemeat”.

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