REVIEW: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

11 08 2015

Director Guy Ritchie got to where he is today – directing major studio action films – by never shying away from style.  At times, this tendency manifested itself in an almost enfant terrible fashion by flashing pizzaz when not necessarily required.  This was the Achilles’ heel of the “Sherlock Holmes” series, which suffered under the weight of his excessive flourishes.

Ritchie’s latest film, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” finds the writer/director on his best behavior.  Along with a gaggle of other writers, he adapts 1960s television series for the screen in a manner completely fitting for a Cold War-era property.  It has subtle modernizing twists but always feels like a throwback to a bygone age of unimaginable suaveness.

Leading the charge, perhaps more than Ritchie himself, is leading man Henry Cavill as CIA operative Napoleon Solo. From the second he first struts across the frame, Cavill radiates an old-school electricity. He owns the screen, and he knows it. Cavill’s Solo feels cut from the cloth of debonair screen legends, and coupled with his completely self-assured booming vocal inflections, he excitingly recalls a Cary Grant or a Humphrey Bogart.

The film sees him paired with an equally formidable force, Armie Hammer as the sculpted stoic KGB agent Illya Kuryakin.  Trained to remain unmovable and unflappable, Kuryakin makes a worthy counterpoint to Solo.  The two are archrivals by nature of their countries’ ongoing diplomatic stalemate yet must become buddy cops by necessity to prevent the last holdouts of the Nazi regime from activating a nuclear weapon.

Henry Cavill Man from UNCLE

Part of the reason “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” turns out to be such a fun surprise is that the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin remains in flux for the entirety of the movie.  Never does a clear superior/inferior dynamic emerge among them; each gets moments of alternative triumph and embarrassment.  Simply watching them wrestle to establish dominance proves wickedly entertaining enough to power the entire film.  Their partnership, even more than the impressive action set pieces, make for the main attraction.

And that really says something in a movie that crosses the Berlin Wall to pick up an East German car mechanic, Alicia Vikander’s Gaby Teller, who will lead them to ex-Nazis camped out in Rome.  Their globe-trotting capers harken back to the ’60s with no perceptible trace of irony, allowing this retro adventure to play like an old James Bond movie that is only now seeing release. Anything that puts character before spectacle is a welcome sight in this moviegoing environment. Hopefully a sequel does not take too long to arrive!  B+3stars

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One response

13 08 2015
Keith

I’ve be hopeful but cautious when it comes to this flick. Glad to hear it delivers because the trailers were quite fun.

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