The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
dir Guy Ritchie
scr Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
prd Steve Clark-Hall, John Davis, Jeff Kleeman, Lionel Wigram
with Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Jared Harris, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov, Guy Williams, Marianna Di Martino
release US/UK 14.Aug.15
15/UK Warner 1h56
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
No bromance: Cavill and Hammer

vikander debicki grant
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The 1960s TV series gets an origin movie more than 50 years after it debuted. It's a groovy, stylish adventure in the vein of Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies, with lots of enjoyably creative action and absolutely no subtext whatsoever. This means that, even though it's set as the Cold War was escalating, politics is never more than wallpaper.

In 1963 East Berlin, CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Cavill) helps mechanic Gaby (Vikander) escape to the West so they can find her scientist father and secure his nuclear secrets. This is such a major case that the CIA and KGB are cooperating, so Solo has to work with his nemesis, Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), who poses as Gaby's fiance as they travel to Rome together. There they make contact with British agent Waverly (Grant), Gaby's uncle (Groth) and the suspicious couple (Debicki and Calvani) he works with. And of course nothing goes quite to plan.

Ritchie takes his usual inventive approach to every set-piece in the film, refusing to indulge in cliches to create whizzy, hilariously original versions of the usual chase and fight scenes. The main action sometimes takes place in the background or in swirling split-screen montages, while the characters continue acting as if they're above all of this nonsense. But then the characters never develop beneath their witty, colourful surfaces, which leaves the film without even a hint of meaning.

Cavill is terrific as a fast-talking, Bond-like smoothie who simply can't help but seduce every woman he meets. Hammer has a trickier role as the more elusive Illya, a likeable mix of competence and petulance. Their snappy banter is more about the comedy than the tension between them, as they continue spying on each other even as they work together. But this is no bromance, and Ritchie seems to go out of his way to portray them as rivals rather than reveal a warming in their own personal Cold War.

He and cowriter-producer Wigram also avoid exploring early 1960s politics, instead replicating the period's macho attitudes and prejudices. The entire film has a vaguely sexist and homophobic vibe. Even though the women are spirited (both Vikander and Debicki are superb), they're essentially just bait for our heroes. But then, everyone and everything in this movie is little more than eye candy. It's tasty and just a bit naughty, but it leaves us hungry for a proper meal.

cert 12 themes, language, violence, innuendo 10.Aug.15

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall