Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review
Before "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." came out in theaters, I had no idea it was based upon an old television show. I researched the television show as much as I could in preparation for the movie. I understood going in that UNCLE stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. I knew it dealt with a fictional organization that brought together an American spy and a Russian spy, something that was extremely radical at the time, since our world was engaged in the Cold War at the time. I am surprised that a show with a nature as such wasn't blacklisted at the time, but I was not there to experience any of it. I am not sure what drew director Guy Ritchie to this material, I guess he liked the idea of so many spy movies in one year.
Yes its true, 2015 has been a big year for spy films. While I liked both "Kingsman: The Secret Service" and I liked "Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation" and I was bitterly disappointed by key moments in "Spectre," I came into "Man From U.N.C.L.E." with an unclear perspective. How would a film based on a TV show I never experienced play out for me? The answer is actually quite well. "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is another fun, spy-thriller to set next to "Kingsman" and "M:I-RN" and another reason to see how off-the-mark "Spectre" was.
Much like the television show, the American government and the Russian government have set aside their differences for a greater evil. It appears some Nazi leftover after World War II got their hands on a nuclear missile and are planning to use it against the free world. The Americans lend CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russia sends KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). This is a bit a predicament, since both operatives tried to kill the other when both were on a mission against each other in East Germany. They each wanted to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) and it was Solo who ended up victorious. Gaby is the daughter of a Nazi scientist who switched sides in the war, then mysteriously vanished. This could have to due with the Nazi plot. Funny, while in this movie the Communists and Americans unite against the Nazi's, it worked the other way around in the actual Cold War.
While Solo and Kuryakin have to work with each other, they hardly play nice until they are friends at the very end. The film is telegraphed as you'd expect, but what makes the film entertaining is how Cavill and Hammer bounce off of each other. The two men have incredible chemistry and represent two familiar spy tropes, the American is a womanizer of the largest degree and the Russian is motivated by his duty, trying to rid himself of his terrible past and reputation. Both actors do very good work, and when they share time with Vikander, its even better. Hammer and Vikander share a lot of time together, but are very good in their scenes together.
There is some good action in the movie, when there is action in it. To my surprise, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." isn't a huge action-fest. The movie is more about the double-crosses, the drama, the tension, the exotic locations, the humor and all of the fun that gets rolled into a spy movie. I am not saying the action isn't thrilling, because it absolutely is, there just isn't a ton of it. To be honest, I am not sure the movie really needed it. The movie provides the best of both worlds when it comes to what people want out of their spy movies. "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." plays it fun at every corner.
Hugh Grant shows up a couple of times, and while he isn't in the movie a lot, he is golden whenever he pops onscreen, and his character is never whom you think he is. I can say the exact same for Jared Harris, who has a few scenes, but when he's onscreen, he's very good. I love the authentic feel of the 1960's world that these characters live in, never does the movie feel like a soundstage, and I give Ritchie credit for picking the right crew to bring this backdrop to life. I also have to say that I got a huge kick out of Cavill's scarce Bond moments, I think he'd be an excellent replacement for Craig, once Craig finishes his time with the role. Which could be sooner than we think.
All in all, if you like your spy thrillers fun, fast and fierce, "U.N.C.L.E." certainly delivers the goods. But what really struck me was how the movie embraced the spy culture. I wouldn't say the movie is grounded in realism, but I also wouldn't call the movie a cartoon. There was a happy medium, and I found it profoundly surprising.

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