I had not watched the original series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. since I was a child, and I had only seen a made for TV movie which brought back both Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprising their roles from the series over thirty years ago. This put me in an odd position of having grown up in the 60’s, but not really remembering much of this series thereby allowing me a somewhat fresh take on the film.
For those who know less about the series and the movie than I did, an American CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) has been tasked to extract a young woman, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), from East Germany. However he is being shadowed by a KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) who also has orders to not let the woman be taken, all because of her missing father, Udo Teller, a German scientist who has the knowledge on how to build an Atomic Bomb. Through unforeseen circumstances we see both Solo and Kuryakin paired up to help young Gaby rescue her father. There it is, your basic spy/espionage flick.
Guy Ritchie (director and co-screenwriter) had decided to craft an origin story for this movie, given that the TV series never gave any background information on either Solo or Kuryakin, let alone how they came together and started working for the organization known only as U.N.C.L.E. Cavill looks as if he were born to play the part of Solo. Aside from having a physique that beautifully fills out his tailored suits (no doubt due in part to his work in Man Of Steel), he shows a delightful dry sense of humor and expression. As Solo he continually exudes an almost annoying sense of confidence bordering on arrogance, but he always pulls it off because he’s devilishly charming, even when the odds are obviously stacked against him. Hammer, on the other hand, is clearly the straight man. He’s clearly designed to act the role of this Russian character in a stoic, possibly cliché manner. Perhaps this is merely meant to play towards the 60’s sense of how Russians were portrayed in the American cinema of that day. In any case, Hammer pulled it off quite well which worked beautifully against Cavill’s almost cavalier performance.
However, the real star of this movie is Guy Ritchie. He went out of his way to craft a film that looked like it could have easily come out of the 60’s, starting with a very stylized opening credit scene that looked like it could have come from any movie of that time, to the very atmospheric music which was beautifully composed by Daniel Pemberton whose previous work was primarily in television. Here he gives us music for every scene that perfectly matches, not only the setting, but also that unique era. Lastly, the production values of this movie are not to be believed. It’s not easy to totally capture a period of time, but it was done with perfection. From the sets, costumes and props, I truly felt like I had been transported back to a time long past, but thanks to this film, clearly not forgotten.
This movie is filled with action sequences that, again, pay homage to the cinema of that time. Cuts and split screens play a part in helping to tell multiple points of view at the same time which seamlessly advances the story. There are also twists and surprises, some immediately revealed, others through well-timed flashbacks, which keeps the audience totally engaged. The humor, for the most part, is wonderfully dry, but there was one scene, beautifully acted by Sylvester Groth as Rudi Teller that starts off quite funny and then ends up in the land of hysterics. Under normal circumstances this scene would be deadly serious, but through Groth’s acting, as well as Cavill’s and Hammer’s, we were given something that had the entire audience quite literally howling with laughter.
If there is one flaw is that it plays a little loose with an actual historical character, but aside from that this was a pure gem. Solid acting on everyone’s part and perfectly crafted by Ritchie and fellow screenwriter Lionel Wigram. If I had to sum it up, I would say that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is “60’s Cinema Geek Porn.”