“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is a film set in the 1960s that actually feels like it was, well, made in the 1960s. Adapted from the TV show of the same name, which ran for four seasons from 1964-1968, the espionage thriller directed by Guy Ritchie is sleek, stylish, fun, and probably the quirkiest action movie you’ll see all summer—and that’s a good thing.
The film is set in 1963, at the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. So naturally, things get a bit tense when the CIA and KGB force their best agents—Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to work together. Their mission: use a young woman from East Berlin named Gaby (Alicia Vikander) to get to her father, who is nuclearizing a warhead for a mysterious criminal organization led by the glamorous, but cold, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).
Napoleon and Illya are at odds from the get-go thanks to their opposing personalities; Napoleon is calm and confident, while Illya has personality disorders thanks to his rough upbringing. He’s cold, tough, and can snap at just the slightest provocation. Both Cavill and Hammer do a good job bringing their characters to life, even if they’re rather over-the-top—which doesn’t seem to matter in the scheme of things, as the whole movie is rather over-the-top. Vikander, who is quickly becoming one of this year’s breakout stars, is not just the leading lady buy the straight man to Napoleon and Illya’s quirks, and she fascinating to watch, particularly as she appears to slip into the era as if she belonged there. The supporting cast is also solid, and includes Jared Harris as CIA agent Sanders and Hugh Grant as Waverly of British Intelligence, and both get their fair share of jokes in their brief appearances.
Actually, the whole film is surprisingly funny, and the jokes don’t all come from silly one-liners. The dialogue is witty, often deadpan, and there’s quite a bit of visual humor that’s very effective. Take, for instance, the scene in which Illya and Napoleon are escaping a facility on a motorboat. Napoleon gets thrown off and swims to shore, where he finds an abandoned truck, on the front seat of which is a picnic basket filled with wine and sandwiches. Napoleon sits back, pours himself a glass of wine, and turns on the radio, and while a French ballad blares, Illya can be seen in the background, still on the boat, being relentlessly pursued by their enemies. The humor continues when Illya’s boat explodes, forcing Napoleon to go save him—which he does by driving the truck over the edge of the water and right on top of the enemies’ boat, the French song still playing sweetly. A lot of the humor also parodies traditional spy stories in a way that’s subtle but effective.
The action is great too, boasting traditional Guy Ritchie flair without getting too overwhelming. There are several entertaining fights and chase scenes, all well shot. It’s also just a great movie to look at. At times it really does feel less like a modern movie set in the 60s and more like a 60s movie. The subtitles flash across the scene in a flowery yellow font that varies in size based on the dialogue. The sets and costumes are lavish, and are very on point with the era, even if it is a slightly stylized version of that era. As far as authenticity of the time period, the film looks and sounds great; unfortunately, it also runs the risk of alienating modern audiences.
The story itself is only mildly interesting—although there are a couple decent twists along the way—and the ending ties things up too nicely. But as a bit of escapist fare, it works, and it does so without resorting to the same formula used by so many other films from the same genre.
Runtime: 116 minutes. Rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre