MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
2015, PG-13, 116 mins.
2015, PG-13, 116 mins.
Alicia Vikander as Gaby Teller / Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo / Hugh Grant as Waverly / Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin / Jared Harris as Sanders / Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra
Directed by Guy Ritchie / Written by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram
Guy Ritchie’s MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is proof positive that you can make a fully enjoyable and engaging spy thriller built strongly on the merits of stunning production design and, most importantly, the charisma and camaraderie of its main stars.
on the NBC TV series of the same name that aired in the mid-1960’s
(never viewed by me), MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. maintains brisk pacing
throughout, some dry and subversive wit, impeccable period design, and
some solid and likeable performances that have a level of offbeat
interplay that helps give the film a mischievous edge of intrigue.
Even when the film falters and devolves into too many overused spy
film clichés and conventions, MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. remains hip and fun,
traits that seem somewhat lost in many recent ultra solemn genre entries.
large part of the film’s success is that it maintains the original
series’ time period. Unlike
other example of TV-to-movie adaptations (like, say, the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
franchise, also a product of the late 60’s), MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. pays
loving homage to 60’s pop culture and the spy films that permeated that
decade. You gain an instant
sensation just a few short minutes into the film that Ritchie clearly has
a boundless love for this decade and all of its stylistic accoutrements.
From the snappy and punching costumes on the elegant women and
dapper men to the richly lush atmosphere of its Euro locales, everything
visually in MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is wholeheartedly on point.
Thankfully, the film has a wonderfully game cast that really
compliments the film’s retro and old-fashioned aesthetic.
Few films from 2015 are as sumptuously attractive and transport
views to a different time and place as resoundingly well as this one.
film opens rather sensationally with American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry
Cavill, harnessing the look of a Don Draper with the cheeky banter of a
Roger Moore-ian James Bond) attempts to enter East Berlin in hopes of
smuggling out Gaby Teller (EX MACHINA’s
gorgeous Alicia Vikander), an auto mechanic whose father – a brilliant
rocket scientist – has mysteriously disappeared.
Even though Solo makes contact with the initially frazzled Gaby,
the two of them are hunted by a ruthlessly determined KGB agent named
Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, which an ultra thick Russian accent…done
reasonably well). Kuryakin nearly catches and apprehends the pair, but Solo and
Gaby do manage to make it to safety.
However, when Solo’s handler (Jared Harris) later informs him that Kuryakin will – yup! – become
his partner in locating
Gaby’s father, tensions run wild right from the get go.
It appears that Gaby’s dad could be forced against his will to
develop a nuclear bomb for the nefarious Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth
Debicki), which forces Solo and Kuryakin to somehow overcome their
respective cultural differences and hatch a plan to stop someone as
demented as Vinciguerra from having a doomsday device.
FROM U.N.C.L.E. looks endearingly old school while utilizing cutting edge
and modern effects trickery to help sell the legitimacy of its Cold War
era time period. The film works
purely as something to just engage with and take in the colorfully
memorizing sights. Modernizing
the film’s story would have been a categorical mistake, and the
temptation to do just that must have been large.
Yet, so much of the overt and inviting charm of this film is simply
in drinking in all of its visual glory.
It’s also a film where limitlessly beautiful actors are allowed
to parade around in equally gorgeous clothing, which also does a
tremendous job of keeping viewers fully immersed in its 60’s setting.
There’s no doubt that – it could easily be argued – that
Ritchie is perhaps so enamored with the whole look of the film that
cohesive and intriguing scripting takes a backseat.
Miraculously, though, the unrelenting slickness of MAN FROM
U.N.C.L.E. never seems to overwhelm the actors or narrative.
is key in the film and it has a wonderful triumvirate in Cavill,
Hammer, and Vikander. Cavill
has been criticized in past films for having a lackluster overall screen
presence despite his attractive façade.
However, he overcomes such criticisms here by playing Solo as a man
of nuanced low-key charm that has a well-orchestrated quip for any
occasion. Not only can Cavill
rock a suit better than just about any actor on screen, but he also has a
devilishly playful attitude that he neither overplays to hammy levels nor
underplays too subtly. Hammer
also acclimatizes himself quite well to the proceedings and has a nice,
unforced repartee with his co-stars. American actors doing Russian drawl
can sometimes be beyond obtrusive and distracting, but Hammer has great
fun playing up to his character’s stone cold temperament that garners
many of the film’s earned laughs. The
luminous Vikander is sort of an offbeat and unpredictable force in this
film that’s most welcoming, which really helps considering that her role
is somewhat underwritten. Part
of her cover is to masquerade as a married couple with Kuryakin, and
Vikander and Hammer show great delight in playing off of the subverted
sexual tension displayed between their respective characters.
he has demonstrated throughout his career, Ritchie is more than adept at
delivering high octane and impeccably coordinated action beats and MAN
FROM U.N.C.L.E. is assuredly no exception.
Ritchie bombards viewers with his trademark acuity for delivery
rough, rugged, and beautifully stage set pieces here, and many sequences in
the film stand out as highly effective and exhilarating.
The aforementioned opening scenes to the film are thrillingly
edited and choreographed, not to mention a later sequence – involving
Solo and Kuryakin trying to evade capture by fleeing on a motorboat –
culminates with unexpectedly humorous results.
There’s a final set piece - a viscerally staged chase montage involving jeeps, motorcycles, and ATVs
- that packs a sizeable visceral
punch. Sometimes, Ritchie
gets a bit too cute and on the nose using rapid fire split screens and
other visual trickery, but it fortunately never taints the film to
off-putting and eye-straining levels.
Having said all of that, I wished that Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram gave more love to supporting characters, like Hugh Grant’s delightful – but egregiously brief – role of a governmental agent that cooks up the whole idea of birthing the U.N.C.L.E. agency altogether that will team up the best of the east and west (a little bit of Grant’s delectably droll throwaway line readings goes a long way in this film, and the finale certainly hints at larger participation on his part in potential sequels). The overall plot, as mentioned, is essentially a buddy/cop formula film with spy genre trappings about two heroes overcoming personal odds and differences to thwart the villain’s delusions of world domination (been-there, done-that). Yet, MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is so damn attractive, so richly atmospheric, and has so much raw energy as an enjoyable espionage romp that I didn’t care about the film’s foibles after awhile. This film is one of superficial pleasures, to be sure, but it’s engagingly superficial and never dull.