Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a pleasant treat for the dog days of summer. While it is not going to win any awards, Ritchie’s adaption from the 60’s TV show of the same name has a lot going for it and most of it works. It is not a perfect film but there is a lot to enjoy, here.
Henry Cavill (Superman) is Napoleon Solo, an American thief picked up by the CIA and forced into service or go to prison for twenty years. He has become one of the CIA’s most successful agents and in the beginning of the film, he is extracting a beautiful female East German mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander). It seems her father has fallen in with a group of arms dealers led by the beautiful but dangerous, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) and Alexander(Luca Calvani). They have a two bombs but only enough enriched Uranium to make one of those bombs a nuclear one. Gaby’s father has the brains and the ability to help them do it. That is, unless Gaby can convince him to do otherwise. Ilya (Armie Hammer) is a KGB agent also assigned to pursue Gaby, but with orders to kill her, whereas, Solo’s orders are to capture and assist her. The three end up working as a team, and we have our movie.
The cast is standout in UNCLE. Cavill is suave and debonair as Solo. He is looks like a million bucks but is cunning and smart. Cavill (making some moves towards being the next James Bond, maybe) cuts through the camera with charisma and does it with a smile. Armie Hammer is terrific as Ilya and whatever fury and rage he was lacking as The Lone Ranger seems to be here in spades. He tough, intelligent but still has a some humanity that the Soviet Union has not crushed. Ilya has had a tough life and seems to take everything to heart, but he is not without kindness and compassion, especially for Gaby. The trio have chemistry no matter who you connect to and are clearly having fun. The style and visuals of UNCLE pop off of the screen and the action set pieces are fun to watch unfold. Hammer and Cavill make a good team and although they don’t like each other in the beginning, you know they will by the end of the film. No surprises there.
Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani make for an interesting duo of bad guys and especially Debicki’s Victoria who seems intrigued by Solo. She is beauty and the beast, while Calvani’s Alexander is just a beast. Ritchie does a good job of not straying to far into the bad guys plans and keeps it simple with a nod to the Cold War as the main protagonist. The Soviet Union and America and competing world superpowers and Victoria and Alexander are there prodding them along into a war. Debicki and Clavani are solid as the two villains and don’t go over the top with their diabolical characters. I also enjoyed Hugh Grant as Waverly, a British agent who seems to know more than he lets on and Jared Harris as a gravely voiced CIA boss who always seems to be a bit on the cantankerous side. I would have liked to have seen a bit more from their characters, but for the time they have on screen they more than fulfill their role requirements and do it quite well.
Ritchie and Lionel Wigram (the two have worked on both of Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films) do a nice job of keeping the story simple and let the style and energy of the film wash over the viewers. Yet, there is enough substance to the story and the characters that you believe there will be bad consequences if the good guys fail. I was invested in these characters and cared about what happened to them. Ritchie and Wigram’s script (with the help of Jeff Kleeman and David C. Wilson on the story) seems to know how far to take the camp and fun energy without it becoming ludicrous and Ritchie’s direction acknowledges that this film is not to be taken too seriously. There is a wink and a nod in just about every scene to let you know to have fun and there are some very funny scenes of one-up-man-ship between Ilya and Solo. One of the better scenes involves a boat chase.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a clever romp of Cold War ramifications. It IS more style than substance, but it worked for me. It is whimsically engaging, light and frothy in the best sense of the words. The visuals of the time period, the clothes and colors pop off of the screen with vitality and Daniel Pemberton’s retro orchestral score (complete with flutes and Hammond organs) enhances this film and gives it some weight for the action scenes. UNCLE is is undeniably fun and everyone seems to not take themselves too seriously. This film knows what is, what it wants to do and does it in freshly limber fashion and after some real disappointments this year, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a refreshing treat.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.- **** out 5
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.- Rated PG13 for Violence, language and adult situations
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.- Run Time is 116 minutes