Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – a 60’s throwback hit.

Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is inspired by and based on the original series of the same name (1964-1968), which saw spies Napoleon Solo of the U.S.A and Ilya Kuryakin of the U.S.S.R taking on villains all over the globe. Coming from much the same school of cinematic spying as the early James Bond films, (the first of which – Dr. No – came two years before the original series started), the original U.N.C.L.E. series was a sort of ‘Bond for the small screen’ but this re-boot takes the franchise in a fresh new direction and the injection of Guy Ritchie’s signature directorial style fits the perilous pair like a glove.

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Make no mistake – this film is a vibrant thrill ride from start to finish, thanks in no small part to Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie has been remarkably reliable in the past and his name alone is a mark of recommendation for this film. His previous work reeks of stylised class, including Snatch, RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – while the Sherlock Holmes films, starring Robert Downey Jr. in the titular role, have been Ritchie’s biggest budget productions, his gangster flicks, the best of which have been Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, have achieved a well-deserved cult classic status and feature the likes of Brad Pitt, Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones. Half an hour into any Ritchie film an audience will already be enjoying and becoming accustomed to his great sound tracking, sharp dialogue and clever camera-work, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is no exception to this rule.

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Henry Cavill has had a remarkable road to stardom, making the gargantuan leap from appearances early in his career in Midsomer Murders to playing Superman in Man of Steel – his rise has been meteoric and his performance as Napoleon Solo is one of his best yet. Solo was originally played by Robert Vaughan and is, in both iterations, a caricature of the jet setting American spy. Napoleon Solo is a by-word for smart suits, Scotch whisky and womanising and while that might sound like an over simplified character, his part in the film is indispensable and great fun, (as he essentially becomes an even more caddish James Bond). Armie Hammer’s depiction of Ilya Kuryakin is, similarly, a caricature. He plays a near super-human Russian spy with psychotic tendencies (this is a new addition and was never part of the original series), who eventually reveals a bit of a softer side. Both characters are simple but very effective and very enjoyable in the way they bounce off each other in dialogue and action scenes. Their contrasting styles and their initial mutual hatred of each other make for interesting interplay and some amazing comedic moments. Notably the film ends on a note that suggests a sequel, so the team dynamic that builds between them, Gabby Teller, (Alicia Vikander), and Mr. Waverley (Hugh Grant) by the end of the film could get a chance to continue and develop further.

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Parts of the film’s action scenes are presented as if they were taking place in a comic book – different, simultaneous events are presented in different comic-style boxes. The technique oozes style and is a clear manifestation of Ritchie’s outstanding creative input. There’s a lot to be said for how the film’s action is represented throughout, as techniques like this are not overused and the film’s final chase scene is simply amazing in places, more so even, than films which take their plot lines much more seriously.

All in all, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a fantastic cocktail of clever comedy and fantastic action, held together by Ritchie’s signature style – which is perfect when partnered with the film’s vibrant 60’s setting. While the film’s formula is a simple one, it works and is suitable in regard to the film’s fine balance between spoofing and being a tribute to the original series and to other similar spy films like Bond.

By George Storr

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