The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Review: “The name’s Ritchie. U.N.C.L.E. Ritchie”
Look, I know I gushed over Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation a couple weeks back, but this film doesn’t seem to have any of the weaknesses that M:I 5 had – few though they were. I’ve already seen a few people say that this is the big movie to close out the summer – which is amazing since we still have about a month and a half of releases to go, but given the line up still to come, I’d kind of have to agree. With both U.N.C.L.E. and Straight Outta Compton releasing Friday, the summer film season did end a bit early, but it ended on a great high note.
I never did see the original tv show, so I don’t know exactly how faithful Guy Ritchie was to the source material, regarding characters, and what not, but you can tell he absolutely loved making this film. Imagine if Guy Ritchie wrote and directed a Connery era Bond film, and this is what you have in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.! He co-wrote the film with Lionel Wigram ( a long time producer who gets his first writing credit here), and the characters and dialogue have that vibrant and somewhat quirky feel that inhabit almost all of Ritchie’s films (Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding). It’s a return to the form that made films like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch such instant classics. He tried to recapture it with Rock N Rolla, but what he didn’t quite manage to do in that film, he brings forth in spades with U.N.C.L.E.
This film has had an incredibly long production history: The rights were optioned in 1993, there’s been around 14 drafts over the past 20 years; various directors from Quentin Tarantino to Matthew Vaughan to Stephen Soderbergh were each attached at one point; actors from George Clooney to Leonardo DiCaprio to Matt Damon to Christian Bale – and just about everyone in between – were either attached or in talks over the years. Tom Cruise, himself almost snagged another spy franchise for his collection, as well! Thankfully, due to his commitment to M:I 5, he had to drop out. And after all that craziness, we got a film that is way better than it really has any right to be!
Leading the film is Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, who he plays with a kind of absurd bravado – he knows how smart he is, how skilled he is, and he loves every minute being himself. Armie Hammer is the KGB agent that is, at first, hunting and then teaming up with Solo. He’s the cold, slightly unhinged psychopath who’s as unexpectedly funny as he is lethal. Cavill and Hammer actually play off each other incredibly well throughout the film, as watching them is almost like watching a spy version of The Odd Couple. After going through the list of possible choices above, I can’t imagine anyone else being these two incredibly funny guys.
Alicia Vikander rounds out the threesome of protagonists as Gaby Teller, whose an automechnic smuggled over the Berlin Wall due to her familial ties to Nazi Germany. She lights up the screen every scene she’s in, especially with an incredibly funny dance and wrestle number towards the middle of the film. She is at times obstinately strong and surprisingly vulnerable, and she more than holds her own with her costars.
The pair of antagonists of the film are Victoria and Alexander Vinciguerra, played by Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani, respectively. They are the married couple who are the head of a criminal enterprise. Luca’s Alexander is primarily the strong, and deadly, quiet type, but it’s Debicki’s Victoria that is the one to watch here. She is the film’s femme fatale, and her screen presence is commanding. And to round out the cast is a cool little cameo by Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly. I can’t say much about his character as it is a bit of a spoiler, but the little time he does have in the movie is quite important!
The score is pretty similar to that of Snatch, but not so that it feels like it’s a rehash. The music works incredibly well, giving the film a jaunty feel that goes right in hand with the era it’s set in. The cinematography and editing are all on point here, as well. Everything behind the camera seemed to have been running smoothly. Ritchie knew what he wanted and knew how to get it, and it shows! Especially when you look at the budget! At only half of M:I 5’s $150 million budget, Ritchie and Co have managed to make a better overall film, which goes to show that bigger isn’t always better.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a must see, especially for those Bond fans who pine for the days of Sean Connery style 007 films, as this should provide them some solace from the more seriously toned Daniel Craig Bond film Spectre, coming out this fall. If you do nothing else this weekend, see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – it’s Guy Ritchie’s mainstream masterpiece.
By Mathew Gruman @mattgeekshow
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