The Man from U.N.C.L.E is a film about style as much as it’s about espionage. Delicious bespoke suits that would make Mads Mikkelson’s Hannibal Lecter inquisitively lean over and run fabric through his fingers; locations that are a mixture of those owned by George Clooney in Italy or the search results for ‘former James Bond villain’ filter on realestate.com.au* and the braun of current Superman, Henry Cavill, and nearly-Batman/double-Winklevi(get spelling) Armie Hammer. Guy Ritchie’s 60s GQ spy thriller is both a rollicking good time and, one assumes intentionally, the strongest catnip for men rated a three on the ‘Kinsey scale’ since Interview with the Vampire.
When nuclear missile parts and scientists go missing during the Cold War to a mysterious private enterprise wanting to deliver a devastating king hit to the duelling super powers, the U.S and U.S.S.R must pair once rivals and top of their respective classes Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) from the CIA and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) from the KGB to take down the threat and avoid all out nuclear war.
Ritchie’s high tempo, percussive direction doesn’t miss a beat in U.N.C.L.E. Having recently revisited SNATCH (an undeniable London crime classic) all the same devices are there; twists and double crosses to disarm you, different perspectives that are unfurled and revealed only as the main characters begin to learn what’s happening. It’s that trifecta of visual sensibility, great music taste and precision. Ritchie and Lionel Wigram are on scripting duties from a story written alongside Jeff Kleeman and David C. Wilson and this kind of film could have very easily taken a far darker and dour tone. From minute one, the aesthetic and swagger reek of tongues in cheeks and knowing winks. It’s almost as if the same taste and sensibility that drew Matthew Vaughn towards the Kingsman, lured Ritchie to U.N.C.L.E. Both films seem to both lovingly wink to Roger Moore era playful Bond. Kingman attacks it in a much more meta sense; directly referencing its inspiration; while U.N.C.L.E takes us back to the settings, wardrobe and even casts perennial Bond bridesmaid Cavill in the leading Solo role; to create that same old feeling. The innuendo is ridiculously strong, and it’s such a nice relief to see the sexual tension simmering between the two male leads as much as their beautiful fame counterparts.
Cavill is suitably stiff (not a euphemism) as Solo, the soldier, turned jewell thief turned CIA operative. While he fills out the suits perfectly and gives a dimension of physicality that it’s stuffy T.V original could not manage one can’t help but yearn for his British accent that we’re never going to hear while he’s Solo or that unitard wearing Kryptonian. Hammer’s Kuryakin is the tougher and grittier of the two; preferring to hulk out KGB style rather that play subtle infiltration espionage. Hammer too must wrangle a cartoonish Russian accent; but it almost suits that this hair trigger psycho struggles to even articulate words. Alicia Vikander’s Gaby plays the niece of a kidnapped scientist and their in to the shady organisation headed by Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria. Vikander does a great job of being far more than bait or damsel material; making moves, pushing strategy and not allowing her socially inept guard Kuryakin blow their cover. Debicki is just a towering, graceful crime matriarch, whose menace is draped in Italian couture. The other characters are either inconsequential by design, or simply overshadowed by the interplay of the central trio (Cavill, Hammer and Vikander).
The Man from U.N.C.L.E has some flaws, a dash of predictability and some questionable plot turns; but everyone involved brims with how much fun they’re having. In a word it’s ridiculously entertaining**.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
*If it doesn’t exist; make it happen. You know who you are.
** Definitely aware that it’s two words
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie (Screenplay/Story), Lionel Wigram (Screenplay/Story), Jeff Kleeman (Story), David C. Wilson (Story)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris,
SG: Uncle Rudi