The Short Of It:
Guy Ritchie has delivered another wonderful cinematic experience. A cold war spy caper based on the 1960’s TV show which sits closer to classic Bond films than newer grittier espionage thrillers. Highly stylised and packed with traditional Ritchie swagger in the form of split screen, unique camera angles and an exhilarating score. While the plot is one we have seen before, there is lots to have fun with here, the lead trio of actors (Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander) gel together well and some classic British actors heads give it an added boost. A tad long in the runtime, U.N.C.L.E is packed with enough car chases, slick suits and witty banter to see me grinning ear to ear throughout.
The Long Of It:
I have been looking forward to The Man From U.N.C.L.E since i heard about it. A Guy Ritchie spy movie in the same year as a new James Bond film and the unexpected Kingsman as well as Paul Feig’s Spy gives up a huge year for espionage on the silver screen. There was concern over the stern faced Superman, Henry Cavill and box office flop Lone Ranger, Armie Hammer taking the lead roles, but with Ritchie behind the camera I was hopeful for a star turn. A packed house on opening night suggested many others might have had the same hopeful expectations and were keen to get the bad taste of Fantastic Four out their mouths.
Taken from the 1960’s show, the adaptation here looks into the origins of the pairing as the CIA and KGB both send agents to retrieve a scientist captured by a terrorist organisation looking to use his talents to build a nuclear weapon and sell it to the highest bidder. With the help of the scientist’s estranged daughter, the trio infiltrate the organisation in what can only be described as a slight twist on a standard Cold War spy film. Along the way we are given mountains of stylish outfits, slick one liners, fast cars and an Italian backdrop that gives the film a European class befitting a spy film that feels more like From Russia With Love than Mission Impossible. A strong theme of the film is the conflict between the US and Russia as the cold war enemies throw barbs at each other. As the film pushes towards the 2 hour mark there is perhaps some fat to be cut in the second and third act, but there is rarely a lull in the film and always a comedic beat to keep the smile on your face.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E is above all else a style masterclass. From the chiseled hair and chin of Henry Cavill’s Solo to the fashionista 60’s styling of Gaby and Victoria the film is oozing with suave clean lines. Ritchie treats us to a film making class in fresh camera angles. In one scene we see an opening safe door, but instead of the interior or rear camera angle, we get a hard camera on the swinging door, showing each of the characters in turn. It may be a minor detail but it allows the film to be fresh. Many action sequences are cut into split screen to follow both players around and while it may distract from some, its sensory overload keeps you on the edge of your seat. Ritchie has stripped back the grittier layers of his older films and delivered his own take on a Hollywood blockbuster with his own characteristic British tongue in cheek humour and class.
Far from being the cardboard mess I feared, Cavill provides an almost Bond like performance with a glint in his eye and an American accent that could make you forget his British heritage. Armie Hammer on the other hand is lumped with an audacious Russian accent that while not entirely forced is probably a bit past most actors wheelhouse. Alicia Vikander continues her run of accomplished performances, but perhaps suffers at the hand of a script that sees her as a love interest, a daughter and a damsel in distress instead of a strong female character she could have been. The most relieving thing here is the interplay and chemistry between the trio, with the rivalry between the men and sexual tension between Vikander and Hammer being played out to great effect and the end is satisfying as a result. Hugh Grant and Jared Harris both put in appearances in what should have been more substantial roles, but provide value for the time they are there.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E is an enjoyable romp of a film that lacks a bit under the covers, but makes up for it with flashy foreplay and flexing of muscles. The chiselled jaw of Henry Cavill and directorial style of Guy Ritchie provide cornerstones for a classic story akin to The Spy Who Loved Me with modern camerawork and a young energetic cast. A summer blockbuster and crowd pleasing popcorn-stuffer, U.N.C.L.E will likely reward repeat views for the chase scenes and clever banter alone.