Directed by: Guy Ritchie
The Plot: An American secret agent (Cavill) is forced to team up with a Russian KGB operative (Hammer) to escort an attractive East German defector (Vikander) so that they may find her missing father – a German national whose background in nuclear physics is being used to create an atom bomb for a corps of postmodern Nazis hellbent on revenge.
The Film: Allow me to try to define cool for you. Cool: Adj. 1. The integration of excellent style and effortless charisma into a presence of irresistible intimidation. It is what ancient witches called charm. What fishermen call allure. What swindlers call confidence. What Guy Ritchie has chosen to call The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Here we have a film being released in Summer 2015 not because the market for spy films is hot, (even though it certainly is) or because there’s been huge financial rewards adapting cult 60’s television properties into movies recently, (Anyone want to revisit The Green Hornet? How about Dark Shadows??) but because Guy Ritchie understands that the classics – if played well – never, ever go out of style.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a film with serious, serious style. To his critics who accuse Ritchie’s movies of being nothing but style, while lacking much needed substance, this is the Ritchie entry that should help change your mind about the man’s capabilities. For his fans – and I include myself as one – this might be the director’s most confident work to date. Which is a completely different thing than overconfidence – or at least the blatant overconfidence of Guy’s other films.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is not nearly as rowdy as his Holmes movies, nor nearly as hyperactive as his early London crime features, this is a much more bawdy, much more sophisticated Ritchie experience. A film that doesn’t bull rush the audience, but instead is self-assured enough to allow the audience to discover its beat all on their own. There are no contrived punchlines in either U.N.C.L.E’s sense of humor, or in its action sequences. Both are here in ample proportions, and both work when applied – especially this film’s wry humor – but they feel less confrontational than what you may be used to in this genre, and are more of a natural part of the atmosphere. There are the required break-ins and bust-outs this type of movie demands, but even those are much more sophisticated and nonchalant then what you may have come to expect. There’s a boat chase in this film that refuses to follow the stratagem of Hollywood action convention, and is so much better for it.
Essentially what we have here is an espionage a’ trois. A sexy, three-way spy film with an American hustler, a Russian killing machine, and the East German sexpot they’re meant to escort into an underground den of chic Nazi war criminals. All three leads are fantastic. Henry Cavill will likely never be more charming. His American agent Napoleon Solo (aka: Cowboy) is a lover not a fighter. Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin (aka: The Red Peril) flips Guy Ritchie’s previous caricature of the indestructible Russian psychopath – as seen in films like Snatch and Rockn’Rolla – into the most endearing character in the film. Between the two is Alicia Vikander’s Gabby. A work of art in her Emilio Pucci and Pierre Cardin print dresses every bit as beautiful and priceless as anything else Rome has to offer.
The chemistry between these three is considerable.
Unlike other recent spy offerings, the plot presented in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a relatively light, breezy affair. Not clotted with unnecessary twists or arrogant lectures in global politics – this is a tale of handsome heroes and sinister temptresses. A clean, accessible story set in the Cold War utopia of the 60’s. Thankfully Ritchie doesn’t view the period as an irreverent one-liner. We’ve had enough camp from the Austin Powers camp at this point to flagellate the free love decade into a state of perpetual perma-grin. There’s an elegant side to the era represented in this film. The data disks holding the information vital for the Nazis to create their own Atom bomb are as big as most modern console gaming systems – but they’re never presented as a joke. This is simply the wonderful analog of the period.
The soundtrack with it’s strolling bass lines, frantic flute solos, thundering conga drums, and Fast Leslie guitar work puts the finishing touches on this film’s beautiful illusion of being from another time and place – an era just on the other side of Steve McQueen’s Bullit, but not nearly as far as Sean Connery’s Dr. No.
The Verdict: Far and away one of the foxiest films of 2015. Few movies this summer were a more riskier proposition than The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – or, as it happens, were more rewarding. As far as I’m concerned this is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. I’ve seen it twice.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens in theaters nationwide on 08/14/15