THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (USA/12A/116mins)
Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris.
THE PLOT: In 1963, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to work together to take down a mysterious criminal organisation, with the help of Gaby (Alicia Vikander), a German mechanic whose rocket scientist father has gone missing.
THE VERDICT: The film version of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E has been in the works for a long time, and arrives on cinema screens at a time when spy movies seem to be all the rage again. However, with ultra-contemporary films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION, SPY, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE and SPECTRE all released this year, it seems THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E suffers from not trying to be pastiche of the TV show it is based on, and being far too proud of itself.
There really is no denying that Henry Cavill is a ridiculously good looking actor, and he looks great in a tailored, James Bond-esque suit. Cavill makes Napoleon Solo rather cold, but a decent spy, who seems to be constantly tripped up by his hatred for his KGB colleague. We never truly get to know the character all that well, other than the fact that he is a bit of a womaniser, and what is revealed through exposition, which leaves the audience unengaged. The same goes for Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin who, other than having a strong sense of Russian pride and a love for his father’s watch, seems rather vanilla. Alicia Vikander fares slightly better as Gaby, but although she starts off as tough and capable, by the end of the film she is reduced to a damsel in distress. The rest of the cast includes Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki and Jared Harris.
The story, written for the screen by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, covers the origins story for the TV show. Most of the film’s action and attempted humour comes from pitting Hammer and Cavill against one another in a Cold War pissing contest, and this soon grows tiresome. Although the film tries to be fresh and classic at the same time, there is very little to engage with, since the story is neither pastiche nor parody of the original TV show – despite what the trailer would have you believe – so it soon becomes style and sexist quips over substance. At least the love story that is shoehorned in is not a love triangle though.
As director, Guy Ritchie tries to strike a balance between the action and the rivalry between the two agents but, although some of the set pieces are engaging, the film’s tone is never quite right. As well as this, the pacing is messy which means that the film feels unnecessarily slow in places. Although the style and look of The Man From U.N.C.L.E feel accurate as a period piece, there is a feeling of smugness about the whole affair that sucks out any charm the film might have had to begin with. At least the villain is a woman though, eh!?
In all, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E is an origins story we didn’t necessarily need. There are some entertaining moments throughout the film, but the characters are thinly drawn, the pacing messy and the whole thing feels far too pleased with itself to actually be much fun. It feels as though the film missed a chance at pastiche by playing it straight, and suffers because of this. Superman and The Lone Ranger may set out to save the world, but it doesn’t seem like they are going to save this franchise.
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Man From U.N.C.L.E
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0A missed chance
  • filmbuff2011

    Apparently in development at Warner Bros since 1993, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is the last of the 1960s spy TV series to make it to the big screen. This reviewer vaguely recalls childhood re-runs of the show, which featured Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as rival US and Russian agents. Has it been worth the wait? Yes… and no. Former criminal and war profiteer Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is recruited by the CIA as a spy, in exchange for not doing time behind bars. We catch up with him in East Berlin, where he helps car mechanic Gaby (Alicia Vikander) across to the West. During their escape, they’re pursued by apparently indestructible KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). The next morning, Napoleon and Illya come face-to-face again in more civilised surroundings. For a detente has occurred and the CIA and KGB have teamed up to fight a criminal organisation – one which is seeking to expand the use of nuclear weapons on its own terms. Napoleon sets out to investigate glamourous femme fatale Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) in Rome, while Illya and Gaby also try to track down Gaby’s missing nuclear scientist father in Rome. How long will the thaw in the Cold War last though? Directed with his trademark visual flair, Guy Ritchie’s latest film tries valiantly to be an entertaining, funny and globe-trotting affair. In that part, it mostly succeeds. He’s got the locations and period detail right, with a contemporary soundtrack that fits perfectly with the scenic locations. He even takes time for some great throwaway gags like Napoleon taking a break while Illya is chased around in his speedboat, or a torturer who gets his own comeuppance in an unlikely way. The performances are pitched at just the right level of funny/serious, with the dapper Cavill and the dour Hammer playing off each other with both warm humour and healthy rivalry. So, why doesn’t it entirely work then? Well, Ritchie’s script with Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman and David C. Wilson doesn’t hit enough of the story beats that it should. For example, Gaby’s long-lost father is played up as being a major plot point, but turns out to be relatively unimportant – a MacGuffin of sorts. There’s also no real sense of the world really being in danger – this is a world where it’s more about the personalities and confrontations between them, rather than ticking clocks with big red numbers. So, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law Enforcement) sets out to establish a template for possible future films. Whether those will take place is currently unknown, but if audiences respond positively to this first film (which it mostly deserves), then there’s potential for a new rival spy franchise to the Mission: Impossible films, which might be winding down in the coming years. A good start, hopefully a better sequel to follow. ***

  • emerb

    “The Man From UNCLE” is the latest action/thriller/comedy from Guy Ritchie. It is his stylish big-screen reboot of the classic Cold War era 1960s spy show with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer playing the handsome rival spies. The once-beloved television series, created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming, was developed by Sam Rolfe and it paired American and Russian agents working for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement to defeat T.H.R.U.S.H., a sinister organization bent on the usual: global destruction and dominance.

    Set in 1963, the film stars Henry Cavill as American Napoleon Solo, a dapper, dashing and well-dressed womanizer. He is also a crafty expert art-thief and has been given a release from prison in exchange for agreeing to work for the CIA on whatever dangerous missions they send his way. He’s essentially working off his sentence under the supervision of his handler Sanders (Jared Harris) when he finds himself on a routine mission to extract beautiful East German auto mechanic, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), out of East Berlin. Gaby’s father was a former Nazi scientist and has gone into hiding, taking his nuclear weapons knowledge with him. The initial action brings us a high-octane and wild car chase
    where Solo comes up against a huge Russian agent named Illya Kuryakin (Armie
    Hammer) who is also pursuing Gaby. Illya becomes his instant nemesis, leading
    to a dangerous confrontation between the two men. The next day, Solo and
    Kuryakin are not too pleased to learn that they will be forced to work together. Both superpowers want to ensure the nuclear secrets remain out of the hands of terrorists and so they must temporarily set their ideological differences aside in the interest of apprehending the elusive Dr.UdoTeller. They are hoping that the temptation of reuniting with his long-lost daughter will make Teller show up, and it’s up to them to set the trap. So they and Gaby insinuate themselves into the social circles of Italian industrialists Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) who are suspected of working with Gaby’s Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) and plotting to use Dr.Teller’s nuclear technology. Despite Ilya’s keen interest in killing Solo and Solo’s keen interest in staying alive, a temporary truce is forged, as their respective bosses temporarily set aside American-Russian conflict so their best agents can team up on a mission to save the world from global havoc and destruction ?!

    While there is not much in the way of character development, the actors find just the right balance between committing to the material and acknowledging that none of it is to be taken too seriously. With Solo and Illya, we are presented with two highly attractive and super- competent professionals with equally matched skills but radically different temperaments. Arnie Hammer has fun playing the humourless Russian giant with a fiery temper. He relishes every moment and I loved his funny and deadpan performance as the stoic and stone-faced Ilya, who has more than a few surprises up his sleeve as the story progresses. Henry Cavill is affably likeable as a debonair, tailor-suited agent of many talents and he and Vikander have a lively chemistry which works well. I thought he shines here in a way we haven’t really seen from him before. In the end, where the movie succeeds is the chemistry between Cavill and Hammer and Vikander. All three of seem to have found the exact right tone in which to play out the shenanigans. Debicki nails the teasing seduction and tempting eyes as the alluring Victoria, the villainous rich married woman whom Solo beds but certainly cannot trust. Hugh Grant a brief role as the shadowy Waverly, an iconic figure from the original television show who may be the only person who understands the complexities of the mission and true loyalties of all involved. Jared Harris is excellent as Solo’s manipulative and demanding boss at the CIA.

    It has to be said that the plot (by Ritchie and frequent collaborator Lionel Wigram) secondary to the atmosphere, offering the typical twists and reversals you’d expect from any spy movie. It is very light, lacking depth, pretty convoluted and a bit daft but moves along at a nice brisk pace and you enjoy it so much that you really don’t care. Production values are top notch and the seductive settings are a pleasure to look at. This movie revels in a dazzling and elegant array of fashions, costumes, interior designs, cars, weapons, recreating the overall vibe of its time period. And the score is just class – it’s the ultimate in retro cool. You get the impression that Ritchie isn’t trying too hard here, but instead simply relaxed into the era and the attitudes, that’s what makes it such fun. For me, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was a sheer delight – slick, suave, stylish and consistently entertaining. In a quiet time for movie releases, it is a breath of fresh air. While it may not be a massive hit, I think it could attract spy fans just after
    watching Rogue Nation and anticipating the upcoming Spectre (even if it has a completely different tone from either of those movies) and people (like me) with a fondness for the genre and a particular love of 1960s Euro-pop. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is a pleasant cinematic distraction that doesn’t delve too deeply into any themes or theories, yet you are sure to leave with a smile on your face.