Grim_Noir: Straight Outta U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From UNCLE poster

Title: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Creator (original television series): Sam Rolfe

Screenplay: Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram (from a story by Jeff Kleeman & David C. Wilson and Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Luca Calvani, et al

Distributed by Warner Brothers

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

This past weekend, two anticipated films opened. They were both about historical periods when relations between various peoples were extremely strained. One reminds us that the U.S. was a racial powderkeg in the 1980s. The other shows us that the Cold War could be a party at Ground Zero. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. may not be a serious biopic (like the aforementioned Straight Outta Compton), but it is a new Guy Ritchie joint and that is always a cause for rejoicing.

Director Ritchie and his writing team (including Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson & Lionel Wigram) have taken a new look at the founding of the famous spy agency from the well-known 1960s television show. (For those not in the know, U.N.C.L.E. stands for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”)


While this is a very frothy flick, the opening credits immediately throw the viewer into the deep end of the geopolitical pool, circa 1963: Images flash and whiz by, in the most Ritchie-esque way, to give us a quick historical overview of Europe (and Berlin specifically) from the end of World War Two into the heart of the “Iron Curtain.”

The plot, effervescent as it may be, is fairly twisty and turn-y in the best possible potboiler style: Soldier-turned thief-turned CIA operative, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) has been sent into East Berlin to recover Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist. The “Red Menace” paranoia and “Spy-vs-Spy” antics begin when the fleeing duo cross paths with Soviet master agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), whose mission is to prevent Gaby’s defection. If he should get to kill Solo in the process, well, that’s just a job perk.

UNCLE boating

Before you can say “Bob’s yer uncle” (pun intended), The CIA, the KGB and (later) MI-6 have all discovered, as Qui-Gon Jinn so succinctly put it, “there’s always a bigger fish.” Gaby’s father has been kidnapped by a criminal organization looking to sell nuclear weapons to former Nazis with delusions of a Fourth Reich. Worse yet, Gaby’s own uncle may beĀ aidingĀ the Mussolini-leaning “Big Bads” Alexander and Victoria (played by Luca Calvani and Elizabeth Debicki, respectively) to hold Professor Daddy Udo hostage. And you thought your family was messed up.

To say more about the story would spoil the fun. And believe me, the story is a heck of a lot of fun.

The Bad Guys

What I do want to talk about is how Ritchie takes the weaknesses of his cast and turned them into amazing strengths in this film. He draws out daring performances from his leads; taking a mediocre Superman and the worst Lone Ranger ever and lets them become a wonderful bickering friendship in the classic action movie pastiche. Being Ritchie, there is never a touchy-feely resolution to this tension, just a professional appreciation for each other’s skills. This seems to mirror real life, as Cavill and Hammer become an entity which is greater than the sum of its parts would appear to be. Even Hugh Grant comes off as less foppish than usual. On the downside, Alicia Vikander’s German accent appears and disappears like an anime panty-flash and Luca Calvani is never really given anything to do with his character.

While …Compton recreates mid-1980s Los Angeles area, U.N.C.L.E. feels like the entire cast and crew were sent in a time machine back to 1963. The ridiculous attention to period detail in fashion, music, cars, architecture, boats, even door latches and wiring diagrams is staggering. I often found myself forgetting that this movie was not released at the same time as Goldfinger or How To Steal A Million. A young, fresh Sean Connery, Peter O’Toole or Audrey Hepburn could have walked around any corner and I would not have batted an eye. Such is the immersive world The Man From U.N.C.L.E. gives us. Frankly, in my not-so-quiet humble-brag opinion, the entire production crew deserves an Oscar for what they have accomplished here.

UNCLE Operatives

At the end of the day, sometimes you feel like a steak and sometimes you could really go for a slice of angel food cake with whipped cream. If you really crave steak, I would suggest a Jason Bourne or a Straight Outta Compton. However, if you want to end your summer with a big, brawny, slightly goofy action flick that will leave you with a smile and humming some groovy old tunes, you might want to check out The Man From U.N.C.L.E. before it leaves the theaters. You’ll have all awards season to eat steak.




* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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