Set during the Cold War in the 1960s and filmed in England and Italy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) gives audiences a satisfying action-adventure film with great touches of comedy as international government agencies thwart an international crime organization’s plans.
Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Barrels) continues bringing treasured, nostalgic entertainment works to the big screen in ways that please fans and general audiences. Amazing cinematography, costume design, and documentary-style camera work all create a highly entertaining experience. The filmmakers also insert a well-established antagonist group with roots from World War II without bogging down the lively plot full of memorable dialogue and expertly filmed action sequences.
Henry Cavil (Man of Steel, Immortals) and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) headline as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB agent Illya Kayaking with impressive charisma and screen presence. These two characters have several choice words for each other (mostly “Cowboy” and “Red Peril” respectively) throughout their initial professional pairing.
This formidable duo treads relatively carefully in public while creating havoc for the antagonists. At times, it’s hard to blend in being “shaped like power lifter”, but their physicality gives them a unique advantage in performing virtually all of their own stunt work, which becomes a very positive addition to the film.
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander gets a star-making role as Gaby Teller (a.k.a. Chop Shop Girl), a practically skilled (as well as driven) German girl who has some important family connections. She stands on her own while questioning the male agent duo, which develops her character as well as the intriguing plot. “You two are supposed to look after me and I’m playing your mother,” she shouts at them.
Elizabeth Derick (The Great Gatsby) plays Victoria, an intelligent, wealthy Italian woman who plays the part well, especially with her dialogue delivery though audiences do not see much of her actual skills. Luca Calvani (As the World Turns TV series) definitely shows his physical talent as Alexander while Sylvester Growth (Inglorious Basterds) also co-stars in a memorable role as Uncle Rudi.
Jared Harris plays U.S. agent superior Sanders very well as international spy games are on full display with stealthy handoffs, functional fashion, constant surveillance, clever gadgets, and power moves like “The Kiss.” His leverage on an agent keeps him in the game, but Ritchie should have used him much more. “The job is done when I tell you,” he tells an agent.
Hugh Grant also impresses as British agent superior Waverly so much that he could have also been used more. The filmmakers wisely keep his physical involvement in the conflicts to a minimum though it would be interesting to see what Waverly does in a physical confrontation or full-fledged fight sequence.
Ritchie incorporates several purposeful techniques including split screen shots, rotations, flashbacks, quick zooms (aided by special effects, especially in the beginning car chase), and a stellar shot involving a boat explosion. The initial footage amazes as Ritchie reveals this unique world after a great sequence where audiences cannot even tell if it’s actual or archived footage.
Ritchie and the crew’s only two major technical miscues are an exterior scene showing rain instead of clear weather in a long shot with two men by a car and a poorly edited interior scene with Waverly briefing Napoleon and Illya on their current situation.
Ritchie and co-screenwriter/producer Lionel Wigram create appealing characters who predictably struggle with trust and talk about “help” a lot as each make his or her power play amid high, life-or-death stakes. Torture is mentioned in one case while well handled in another without making audiences cringe uncomfortably or grinding the plot to an unwelcome halt. Surprises depend on visual information, so be sure to pay attention throughout the 116-minute running time.
Daniel Pemberton creates an amazing musical score, which echoes Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable scores. The award worthy audio work showcases (e.g. naval ship radio), enhances (knife sound), alters and even stops the sound, especially during a key sequence with Gaby. The song choices match the actual scenes well, especially “Cry to me,” performed by Solomon Burke, in an interior hotel scene.
Based on the television series with the same name (1964-1968) starring David McCallum and Robert Vaughan, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. comes highly recommended and is rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity. Hopefully this film will become a series with a future installment coming soon.
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