From 1964 to 1968, the crime-stopping duo consisting of the Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) and the American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) performed case after case in the television series created by Sam Rolfe called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Together with their British headquarters agent, Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), their espionage goings on were popular among the masses, winning a Golden Globe for best TV show, and being nominated several years for Emmys and other awards.
2015 presents the world with a cinematic adaptation of this series, directed by the excellently chosen famed British spy/thriller/action director Guy Ritchie, who has delivered a handful of exciting fast-paced flicks such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch., RocknRolla, and the Sherlock Holmes films. Ritchie’s shrewd eye for ever forward-motion filmmaking is keenly at play in the film; drawing upon his sense of style along with well cast stars, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. of this year delivers some quick, quippy storytelling that entertains well, to the best of its ability.
This time around, pitted (at first) against one another, Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya (Armie Hammer) are introduced as two brassy, intelligent knuckleheads with jawbones chiseled as though from alabaster and piercing stares as intense as they are smoldering. Their witty repartee throughout the film is balanced, and clearly as actors it’s apparent these two got along well during the filming, despite their characters’ apprehension towards one another. The British Alexander Waverly is cast well as a one incomparable Hugh Grant, who brings a certain classiness to the film all his own.
Cold War fears and the Russian/U.S.A. relations were THE topic of the day, and watching it now, it feels in some ways quite removed from the world in which we now live, not only topically, but also since it’s impossible to believe that “back then” everything was as slick and buttery smooth (not to mention that absolutely everyone was inconceivably attractive) as this motion picture presents. Nevertheless, ’tis an enlivening fiction into which viewers can easily, mentally throw themselves.
Set in 1963, the stylish and vivid imagery and look of the film are artistically formed with distinct purpose and grace. Nary a hair is out of place, nor a suit coat misfitting, and at every turn both Cavill and Hammer razz each other on who is more fashionably in line with a sort of visual masculine yet fashion-centric ideal they both seem to preternaturally possess. The film is more concerned with these matters than such a movie would ordinarily likely be, so in the end this serves as a kind of comedic interception into the otherwise serious overall tone of the plot twists at hand.
The men seem to have this innate (strange, really) sense of ultra-security about themselves. Perhaps this comes with the unshakable confidence naturally bestowed upon human white privileged heterosexual (though refreshingly non-homophobic) males gifted with the statuesque Greek godlike faces and bodies, (as Hammer, and to an even greater extent, Cavill are—the latter is Superman, for goodness’ sake). But more so, it seems to be a conscious choice on behalf of Ritchie to make these men so very sure of themselves, that their actions are never questioned. That’s not to say that they are always right, but as characters, they exude a sort of self-assuredness so unwavering, their decisions hardly ever need explanation, unlike if they were being made by actual people in the real world. It adds a sort of surrealist element to the gorgeously filmed pseudo-’60s reality the movie portrays, and if nothing else, it builds verisimilitude helping viewers suspend their disbelief quite well, allowing a sort of ease of passing for the sometimes nonsensical action being witnessed onscreen.
Another interesting element to the movie is that the main woman, Gabriella “Gaby” Teller (Alicia Vikander) is more of an actualized role than such a woman would generally be in this type of a film. She doesn’t serve solely as “arm/eye candy” or just as a mere love interest, but rather as a character around which much of the action hinges, in a non-love story tale. That in itself is interesting in a film from a genre known to have exploited women time after time as nothing more than pretty “things” over which to be fought or won.
In all, the movie does a swell job of maintaining a quick pace and piquing interest from start to finish. It sometimes can get muddied down by lack of detail regarding situations that are not altogether clear, but in the end, enough of the action becomes clarified where it doesn’t feel like the 116-minute run time was merely a confusing mess (as such a film could easily wind up being, if it were in the hands of a lesser adroit director). In the end, it’s a fun spy film, and for the action-seeking summer movie goer, sometimes no more is really needed than that.
3.5 out of 5 stars.