I don’t know about anyone else, I’m definitely going to say that 2015 is the year of the spy film. Usually we would have at lest one or two per year (if we’re lucky) but this year though, there have been quite a lot that have come out or still haven’t been released yet (KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, SPY, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: ROUGE NATION, SPECTRE etc.). One of the those films in particular is director Guy Ritchie’s latest film THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which is based the 60s TV show of the same name. I enjoy a good spy film and liked some of Ritchie’s films (SNATCH is my favourite of his work), so I was definitely interested in checking it out.
Set in the early 1960s, the film tells the story of two rival spies – American CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) – who are forced to work together by their agencies to track down and find a missing German scientist, who had been working for the U.S. government. They believe that he has been kidnapped by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), the leader of international criminal organisation who plans on using him to create an atomic bomb. However the only way that Solo & Kuryakin can get close to them is to recruit Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the German scientist’s estranged daughter. Together they must put their differences aside to save the world.
Now I should start off by saying that I’ve never seen the original 60s TV show that this film is based on, so I’ll judging it on its own as a film rather than as an adaption. But what did I think of it? While it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to its sub-genre, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E was still a surprisingly entertaining and engaging action/comedy spy film that I really had a good time with from beginning to end. I know that the director Guy Ritchie can be hit and miss when it comes to his films but I thought that he really delivered with this one. In fact I would say that he is the right person to make this film. Ritchie did a really good job with his direction here and the script (which he co-wrote with Lionel Wigram, from a story by them both plus Jeff Kleeman & David Campbell Wilson) is both clever and witty. Like some of his previous films (particularly the SHERLOCK HOLMES films), he was able to find the perfect balance of action and comedy without making it feel too jarring in any way. You can definitely tell that he has a love for the spy genre while this film, it feels very much in the same vein as those from that era of film (especially the early James Bond 007 films). Plus he even brings some modern sensibilities to it as well. Also it helps that he has great cast to work with as well.
I have to say I thought that Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer were both really good in their lead roles as “Napoleon Solo” & “Illya Kuryakin”. You can tell that they were clearly having a lot of fun playing these two characters. Cavill and Hammer have great onscreen chemistry with each other and they bring a lot of likability to their roles (based on his performance here, I can definitely see Cavill take on James Bond 007 in the future if he is ever offered the role). Plus the film does a great job at really developing their characters as well (their constant back-and-forth rivalry between their polar opposite characters gave the film some of its funniest moments). I know some people might accuse Hammer’s Russian accent at being a bit cartoonish (if this were any other film, I would definitely agree too) but honesty, I thought that it actually suited the tone of what this film was going for. However as much as I did enjoy Cavill and Hammer’s performances, the stand out for me was definitely Alicia Vikander in the role of “Gaby Teller”. I thought she was absolutely wonderful and she stole every scene was in. Plus she brought a lot of spunk to her role that made her character really both charming and engaging. The supporting casts were all really solid as well: Hugh Grant was quiet memorable in his role as “Alexander Waverly” (it’s been a while since we’ve seen Grant in anything, it was good to see him back) and Aussie actress Elizabeth Debicki (from THE GREAT GATBSY) was a lot of fun as the film’s villain “Victoria Vinciguerra”, although I wish she given a little bit more to do (but she does well with what’s she’s given). Plus the production/costume design was great (they really captured the period of the early 60s perfectly) and the 60s flavoured score by Daniel Pemberton was absolutely terrific (I think that it’s one of my favourite ones of the year).
However even though there were a lot of things that I really enjoyed about the film, I did feel that it does have some flaws as well. While the action scenes were solid for most part, they weren’t really as memorable as they could have been. Most of the hand-to-hand fight sequences were shot in the close-up shaky-cam style that at times that it can be a bit hard to see what’s going on times. Also while Ritchie’s visually stylized big action set pieces are a lot more toned down here then other previous sequences he has done in the past (particularly in the SHERLOCK HOLMES), they still felt a bit too out-of-place when compared to the classy tone of the rest of the film. John Mathieson’s cinematography looked really gorgeous at times, unfortunately you easily tell that he was using digital cameras ’cause during some moments (particularly in the action sequences or night-time scenes) it looked like they were being shot of someone’s home video camera (which I found to be really off-putting and distracting). Plus while the script is well written and it has some surprisingly turns in its plot but for most part, it is still pretty predictable and you know exactly where the story is going to go (not that there is anything entirely wrong with that).
Overall while THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. isn’t the most original or unique spy film that you’ll ever see, it still a well made, classy and really fun one nonetheless. Despite some of its flaws, I think that Guy Ritchie definitely succeed in setting out in with what he wanted to do with this film, which was to make a hugely entertaining spy that harkens back to the ones that were made during the 60s and 70s. If you are a big fan of spy films (particularly earlier James Bond 007 films), you’ll definitely have a good time with it. But at the same time, I think everyone else will enjoy it as well. This is a film I would really like to see a sequel if it ever happens.
Review witten by Bede Jermyn