Film – The Man from U.N.C.L.E

Man from UNCLE

Steve Taylor-Bryant dives into the past as seen by Guy Ritchie as he watches The Man from U.N.C.L.E out now on DVD…

In the 1960s with the Cold War in play, CIA agent Napoleon Solo successfully helps Gaby Teller defect to West Germany despite the intimidating opposition of KGB agent Illya Kuryakin. Later, all three unexpectedly find themselves working together in a joint mission to stop a private criminal organization from using Gaby's father's scientific expertise to construct their own nuclear bomb. Through clenched teeth and stylish poise, all three must find a way to cooperate for the sake of world peace, even as they each pursue their own agendas.

I think we should set some ground rules when watching a Guy Ritchie film, especially a Guy Ritchie remake of something that may be considered much loved.

Rule 1 – If you are very precious about the source material then do not watch a Guy Ritchie film.

Rule 2 – If you like an intricate plot and Sorkin levels of dialogue then do not watch a Guy Ritchie film.

Rule 3 – If it contains Madonna and is from his Madonna period then do not watch the Guy Ritchie film.

I’m not precious about The Man From U.N.C.L.E in fact, I’ve only ever seen the television film that came out years after the series had ended, it’s just one of those shows I keep meaning to get to but for some reason I never do. I also love Guy Ritchie films, excluding the Madonna one, and can see past that faux-cockney façade and enjoy what it is that Ritchie is doing with his films – making them fun. The characters of any Ritchie project are just that, characters, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E is no exception. Napoleon Solo, played by Henry Cavill, is the uber smooth one. Career criminal turned spy, tailored suits, womaniser, the very essence of what suave means in a film set in the 1960’s and made by Hollywood. Cavill donned his best American accent and seemed to revel in the role, performing his own stunts, delivering his cheesy one liners like a seasoned Police Squad member and generally looked like he was having a ball away from the intensity of being Superman. Illya Kuryakin is portrayed by Armie Hammer and was my main fear about watching this film as I’ve seen Hammer in other stuff and he just seems to fall flat and lack chemistry with his co-stars. No such issue here though and he plays off Cavill so well. His version of Illya is more serious, angry and uncontrollable than I remember the television one being but it does help to set up some excellent action scenes and perfect joke telling. The third, and possibly most important part of the main cast, is Alicia Vikander as Gaby who does not just stand toe to toe with her more famous colleagues but seems to relish the challenge and often steals a scene from one or the other.

Going back to rule 2 and you won’t find any intricate plot here. You won’t find deep and meaningful conversations or any big words you won’t understand and, if you are waiting for something that’s clever, may I suggest you have picked the wrong film? This is about Ritchie bringing his humour and action to the screen. Nothing more, nothing less. In every Ritchie project the joke is the main point of focus, or the hilarious way that a scene is played, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E is instantly recognisable as a Guy Ritchie film. From stunts actually done and just added to slightly with green screen to guns and punches, the way Ritchie directs and edits is all there just as you might expect. The cast carry off the jokes, Hugh Grant is bearable in a film and the torture scene is grotesquely funny.

I am not saying however that this is cinematic gold. It has its flaws, and to be honest most of the flaws are in the statements I have made above. You shouldn’t just make a film with no plot, one liners and action and, if any other director did that, I would probably be going a bit Illya by now, but it’s Guy Ritchie and that’s what we expect, nay, demand from him and he has delivered with aplomb. I hope Warner Bros. were happy enough that it gets a sequel as I for one will be watching it but I do understand if you may not. Follow the rules folks, follow the rules.

Image and synopsis - IMDb