Crying for ‘UNCLE’?: Reviews The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Published: August 15, 2015

Crying for ‘UNCLE’?: Reviews The Man From U.N.C.L.E., An espionage adventure set in a most stylish 1963, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the first Guy Ritchie film that will delight retro design buffs: there is bright designer fashion and vintage furniture everywhere. The ordinary filmgoer, however, may be disappointed, because comic foreplay and pulse-raising suspense aren’t so prominent in what is the most perplexing film the British director has made since former wife Madonna was his leading lady.

From his 1998 debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, onwards, Ritchie has been focused on the adversity that can test male friendship, and his reboot of the American television series, which ran from 1964 to 1968, suggests a fresh take on the idea. First seen tangling with each other in East Berlin, CIA spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are assigned as unlikely partners to investigate an international crime syndicate developing nuclear bombs.

No sweat: The Man from U.N.C.L.E rates highly for period fashion, but its characters seem to treat the plot as a game. Photo: Warner Bros

Divided by ideology but united by square jaws, the two franchise faces – Cavill is the current Superman, Hammer was the Lone Ranger – engage in perpetual one-upmanship when they arrive in Rome to further their mission, Accompanying them is Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing German rocket scientist believed to be leading the program of the cold warrior’s new adversary.

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Scooter rides and the Spanish Steps ensue, but aside from Vikander the period playfulness falls short. The dialogue, written by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, is zesty but hardly memorable, and Cavill’s drily suggestive charm has no more devilishness to it than Hammer’s fiery anger is menacing. Watching them bicker is an unintentional reminder of how well Robert Downey jnr and Jude Law portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson for Ritchie.

The action sequences are mostly brief and uncomplicated, and the film suggests that the plot is a game that can ignored by the characters and the audience. At one point Solo calmly sups in a truck, while in the background Kuryakin madly races a speedboat around a harbour to dodge pursuers. Immaculately costumed, the cast are like elegant chess-pieces moved around a board and photographed with long lens suitable to the era.

All style: Alicia Vikander plays a glamorous East German in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Unfortunately Ritchie doesn’t have the subtle technique for that approach, and it’s only with Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, playing a villainous Contessa, that he matches the cultured look with a seductive mood. The camera catches her elongated frame folding into a languorous shape, and for a moment The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has intriguing possibilities. But then Cavill’s Solo literally passes out, as good an indication as any of his fleeting charisma and the film’s shortfalls.

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