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Movie Review of the Week: “The Man From U.N.C.L.E”

Movie Review of the Week: “The Man From U.N.C.L.E”
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BY ALISON BAILES

My biggest fear for Guy Ritchie’s latest testosterone-fueled romp through Europe is that no one will want to see it. The TV show on which it is based is 50 years old. The Cold War setting has lost its frosty sheen since James Bond battled sexy Russian spies and it is headlined by two B-list actors (albeit very good looking ones).

Fear not. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a terrific good time, walking a fine line between spoof and homage and not cluttered by all the usual Ritchie cinematic tics and frenetic camera-work. Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Sherlock”) uses a colorful 60s palate and stylish editing (there are even split screen moments!) to set a distinct tone and doesn’t try for hip anachronisms or winking nods at the audience. The cast plays it straight within the very stylized film world of international espionage. It’s less Austin Powers and more James Bond-lite of the late Connery/early Moore years.

Like 007, our two globetrotting spies are well tailored and suave. American Napoleon Solo (played by the square jaw of Brit. Henry Cavill) is sent to East Berlin at the height of friction between the superpowers to extract the daughter of a rocket scientist. Gaby, played by the ubiquitous Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”), is to lead the CIA to a missing nuke before it falls into the wrong hands. Also on her trail is KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (the equally square-jawed Armie Hammer). Opponents, but brothers in arms, they end up forming a makeshift truce to outwit some nasty Nazis who want the bomb.

The opening scene is a breath-taking escape over the Berlin wall involving an amusing car chase and a zip line. Ritchie sets a playful, derring-do tone and Cavill and Hammer excel at their larger than life characters. Solo and Kuryakin are both borderline implausible, no, make that totally implausible, with their superhuman wits and stamina, but we never feel like we are watching cartoonish superheroes. Ritchie keeps it real and ridiculous at the same time.

Both Cavill and Hammer have disappointing tent-pole movies on their resumés (“Man of Steel” and “The Lone Ranger” respectively). But here, their relatively unknown faces are an asset. Apparently George Clooney and then Tom Cruise were attached to this project and one can only imagine the different ways the film might have turned out. Vikander, as is often the case in these types of action films, doesn’t have a lot to do, but she looks fabulous. She also has good chemistry with Hammer, whose Kuryakin is as stoic and intractable as a Soviet automaton should be. Of course, the chemistry really exists between the two male leads as they gently spoof the genre while clearly having a great time honoring it.

Hugh Grant plays an exaggerated version of Hugh Grant, marble-mouthed as the head of Britain’s spy agency, Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”) is a delightful villainess right out of Fellini, and Sylvester Groth (“Inglourious Basterds”) channels Laurence Olivier in “The Marathon Man”. Ritchie is in his element and kudos also goes to his co-screenwriter Lionel Wigram for the snappy script. It’s hard not to imagine a sequel…and I am already very much looking forward to it.

 

 

 

 

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