The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Release: Friday, August 14, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Guy Ritchie; Lionel Wigram

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

In The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the stylish new action comedy from Guy Ritchie, Henry Cavill looks short compared to Armie Hammer. So I had to go look up the listed height of his less debonair co-star. Hammer stands a towering 6’5″. . . The size difference is notable, but more importantly it defines the film’s running sight gag — two larger-than-life men stumbling their way around a terror plot steeped in 1960s Cold War paranoia.

At the risk of re-opening fresh wounds, may I remind everyone that Cavill is no physical slouch. At 6’1″ he made for a pretty intimidating Kryptonian in the much-maligned Man of Steel (oooh, careful there, Tom), yet here he’s set up on more than one occasion as the submissive one, the American spy Napoleon Solo versus Hammer’s short-tempered Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin. The two must join forces (but only after overcoming that awkward phase of being former sworn enemies on the streets of a Berlin torn literally . . . or, rather, politically . . . in half in the aftermath of World War II) to thwart the efforts of an international crime syndicate hell bent on global destruction, an organization led by the beautiful but dangerous Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki).

Solo appears first. He briefly interrogates a young car mechanic named Gaby (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) who happens to be on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. With her cooperation in providing some personal background (e.g. the nature of her father’s work) Solo assures her he can help her escape the Iron Curtain. An exciting chase throughout the ruins of the city ensues when the pair cross paths with Kuryakin, initiating one of several impressively choreographed stunt sequences that Ritchie has by now mastered. It isn’t as quickly paced or as vicious as those featuring in his signature early works. If anything, U.N.C.L.E.‘s suavity is antithetical of the behaviors of those brazen British blokes of the late ’90s and early 2000s. But don’t make the mistake of equating Ritchie’s tempered approach with a boring film.

In fact his style might never have been better. His ability to generate comedy out of the sheer physicality of his leads trumps the familiarity of the screenplay (written by Lionel Wigram and himself). Cavill and Hammer get along great but there’s something more striking than their chemistry, a chemistry that makes sequels seem all but inevitable. How ridiculous are these guys in the roles of secret operatives? Even with dark pasts, the likes of James Bond, Jason Bourne or even Big Chris don’t occupy the same kind of space. Hammer, who, once again, has four inches on Cavill’s imposing frame, takes on a character simmering with intensity and anger who must stuff his emotions down for the sake of the mission; Cavill, considerably more charming and well-adjusted, can still be a brute when push comes to shove. And yet, if Ritchie allowed the pair to play it straight the film would be bleaker and less enjoyable.

Ritchie also judges his female characters well, effectively emboldening any skeptical future director with the idea that it is, in fact, okay to cast curvaceous females in well-written, anti-damsel-in-distress roles. Vikander, though not quite as luminous as she was earlier this year as Ava, offers strong support in the form of a deceptively complex role, one that comes to bear the narrative’s crux — who exactly is an agent to trust in this time of turbulence and . . . erm, distrust? But it’s Debicki’s sinister Victoria, a descendant of tyrannical rule of some description, that is going to stand up to scrutiny. With what little screen time she is given Victoria is a true sadistic. A femme fatale if there ever was one. Of course, the film has a duty to provide more general entertainment so she’s not untouchable. Her demise is actually one of the movie’s missteps, but hey, now I’m just being picky.

Familiarity with the 1960s TV series isn’t a requisite, nor is experience with the director’s previous outings. Ritchie appeases with a Sherlock Holmes-esque touch — it isn’t probably what die hards are going to be looking for but even they are likely to come to accept this for what it is — and crafts a story that, while not wholly original, steadily absorbs through its key players’ charisma, slick cinematography and gorgeous production design. Expanding beautifully on the backs of a well-established core of enthusiastic performances, U.N.C.L.E. is as ridiculously enjoyable as it is ridiculous.

Recommendation: It’s not the most original story you’ll see this year but it’ll be a challenge to find a more enjoyable thrill ride, especially one dressed in the style of the 1960s. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is one of Guy Ritchie’s best films, and if you call yourself a fan of his brand of filmmaking you owe it to yourself to go pick up a ticket for this right away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “I was briefed on your criminal career. Your balls are on the end of a very long leash, held by a very short man.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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31 thoughts on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

    • Thanks! Fun is the word. Cavill and Hammer are charming and the film just looks so good. A solid entry in Guy Ritchie’s canon. 🙂

    • I won’t even pretend like it warrants comparisons to Jurassic World. You know what my feelings are on that one. 😉 Although I will not deny it still is a popcorn-friendly bit of escapist filmmaking. As is most of the Marvel products. I put U.N.C.L.E. in a slightly different light b/c of Guy Ritchie. He may not be everyone’s bag but I really like the way he does things.

  1. Wow! Seven out of eight; wasn’t expecting that! I have a mixed viewpoint on Ritchie. To be fair to the guy he’s seemingly matured as a director from the dark days of his Madonna period, especially in his depiction of women on screen.

    • Yeah I have a soft spot for Guy Ritchie, but let’s not talk about Swept Away. 😉 What a completely inexplicable entry that is on his record.

      I was surprised by how much enthusiasm I had for this leaving the theater, it’s still staying with me too. This was a lot of fun for me.

  2. Great stuff as always, Tom! I saw the very extended trailer halfway and it looked good – I didn’t finish the trailer because I wasn’t in the mood for a full length film (the trailer nearly equaled that!) I really appreciate Henry Cavill, like really, and I thought Alicia Vikander was amazing in Ex Machina. So I guess I should give this a try as well!

  3. Woo Hoo! Great to hear good reports because I thought the trailers were a lot of fun. Hope to see this in a couple of days. Can’t wait now!

    • Yeah it’s a really fun ride Keith, I wasn’t expecting much from it (particularly as someone with no experience with the source material) but I was doubly rewarded here. First, from the surprisingly good chemistry between the gigantic Cavill and Hammer and secondly with how much fun Ritchie seemed to have making this. I wasn’t big on his take on Sherlock Holmes — and what was that about with him making Swept Away?? But this is a return to form for him, in my book. Hope you enjoy yourself

  4. Tom, I’m glad you reviewed this. I didn’t watch it maybe because I was afraid it would flop like The Avengers. It was on television but I was too little to remember much (Sorry, Michael). Is this better/worse than The Kingsman?

    • I hold it in way higher esteem than The Kingsman. Kingsman was pretty goofy stuff and I wasn’t as high on it as most seemed to be. This is much more reserved in its comedic approach. I really love it because of that. And for great usage of female characters in an action film.

        • What’d you think of Kingsman? I actually really enjoyed Firth in it, and Egerton wasn’t bad either. It just was a . . . idk, a weird experience for me. haha

          • Yes, I thought it had a lot of British humor–felt the Monty Python experience. The music was great–for instance, the scene in the church and he goes nuts–reminded me of Shaun of the Dead. Funny in a sick way. Funny because I wasn’t expecting Firth to be wielding the sword.

            • Yes that scene was a highlight for me for sure. Especially given the types of people he was beating up haha. I’m intrigued by the comparison to Monty Python, I can see that!

      • Hi Tom, I wish I could say I LOVE this movie, given how I think the two leads are absolutely gorgeous and the setting of the film is equaly panoramic. But whilst I think it’s a fun film, it rings hollow for me, similar to watching The Tourist. There are some fun parts but I just think it’s too much style over substance. Ah well, we can’t always agree on everything right? 😀

        • Oh, absolutely! Where would the fun be in everyone agreeing and saying the same things? 🙂

          I can totally get on board with it coming across a bit hollow, at least you’re not attacking Cavill and Hammer like I’ve seen some people doing. I just don’t understand those arguments at all. Haha

          • Hi Tom! Yes indeed, it’ll be a boring blogging world if we all agree on everything. Hope you’ll check out my review, I actually like the two actors in general, I just think the movie itself is just bland.

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