In the 1960s with the Cold War in play, CIA agent Napoleon Solo successfully helps Gaby Teller defect to West Germany despite the intimidating opposition of KGB agent Illya Kuryakin. Later, all three unexpectedly find themselves working together in a joint mission to stop a private criminal organization from using Gaby's father's scientific expertise to construct their own nuclear bomb. Through clenched teeth and stylish poise, all three must find a way to cooperate for the sake of world peace, even as they each pursue their own agendas.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Man from UNCLE is a spy comedy that Hammers out a Cavill-cade of Hugh-gely satisfying laughs
When I first saw the previews for Guy Ritche's latest film, "The Man from UNCLE" – a remake of the series of the same name – I decided to approach it fresh. So I avoided watching any of the adventures of Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo and David McCallum's Ilya Kuryakin.
I mean, to do otherwise just would not be fair, since my exposure to the original is limited to pop culture references. Why catch up to a show from decades ago only to rip apart the new one? Why give myself false nostalgia?
That said, I cannot tell you whether this is a faithful recreation of the original, a tasteful homage, or perhaps a complete bastardization.
However, I can say that, as a Guy Ritchie action-comedy, it works. The jabs at fictional representations of espionage are delivered with near perfect timing. Even the languishing takes meant to ridicule the tropes, stereotypes and clichés we have all come to see in every action spy thriller do not feel drawn out. All of Ritchie's trademarks are also there, from the diagetic sound that shifts to almost non-diagetic levels as the on screen action becomes a musical montage – a music video if you will – right down to the ubiquitous tongue in cheek, deadpan humour.
While I am sure the more eagle-eyed of viewers could play a game of "spot the anachronism" (that tube frame 4x4 in the previews, for instance), I would actually fault this movie as being too period. They seem to have cherry picked all the things people imagine as from the era. The result is that the clothes are just too chic, the set pieces too on the nose.
Then again, I guess that is the point: You are meant to fall in love with the aesthetics of that period as interpreted by Oliver Scholl's production design, and as captured by John Mathieson's cinematography. The fashion, the accessories... even the cars. Especially the cars! How could any depiction of the glamour of the sixties be complete without one Jaguar E Type? Also, watch out for the cameo of a $38 million Ferrari.
Even with the attention to detail "Mad Men" put into shattering any preconceived notions of the so-called swinging sixties, as well as CNN's "The Sixties" television documentary series' unflinching look at the social turmoil of those times, somehow I still wish I could have lived back then.
Or at least escape into the movie universe they have created.
Because in our world where terrorist groups are committing heinous acts of barbarity that would put any of UNCLE's supervillain enemies to shame, where spy thrillers like "Homeland" had to up the ante because reality is scarier than the fictional world they have created, where the James Bond 007 franchise lost its playfulness long ago and just keeps getting grittier and grittier, and where Donald Trump is the most popular US republican presidential aspirant, the Cold War and its Mutually Assured Destruction definitely seem worth pining for. I mean what is the mere threat of a few megatons of thermonuclear annihilation compared to the Donald?
The movie is cast satisfyingly well enough, with Armie Hammer's Ilya Kuryakin projecting a cold lethality that may have been a bit much. Luckily, this is a bickering buddy movie, where Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo balances things out with borderline insufferable calm smoothness. For something with a bunch of Brits speaking in American accents, I am a bit surprised they toned down Gaby Teller's accent whenever the character speaks English – I'm sure the Swedish Alicia Vikander could lay an affectation of an East Berliner real thick.
In all, "The Man from UNCLE" is an enjoyable comedy and an escapist fare which just happens to be seemingly set in our past. I even rank it as a solid tale of espionage, with the end reminding me of Roger Moore as Bond, yelling to General Gogol, "That's détente comrade. I don't have it. You don't have it."
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