The Man from U.N.C.L.E(2015)
dir. Guy Ritchie
written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant
1.75 out of 4 stars
I wouldn’t count myself as a connoisseur of 60’s Cold War TV spy programs. In fact, I didn’t really consider them until the opening credits of Guy Ritchie’s latest movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This adaptation follows the story of Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a former criminal turned extorted CIA agent, and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a mildly unhinged KGB operative, teaming up to halt the spread information that could lead to a nuclear incident. They are joined by Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), daughter of a Nazi scientist whose scientific secrets are in danger of leading to the nuclear troubles. The trio’s adventure moves to Rome to thwart the damage.
This movie, from an often enjoyable director, disappointed over and over. The director of Sherlock Holmes and Snatch has delivered action and suspense with punchy humor to entertaining results, building worlds a little off kilter but nicely realized. He tends to love his slow motions and explosions, but the humor and crafting of his scripts and characters’ portrayals line up to make enjoyable pieces.
This film just couldn’t find itself. Scenes would build nicely, putting action in the background or splitting scenes, but the outcome would fall horribly short of what the viewer desired. After waiting out a battle with booze and bread in the cab of a truck, the unbeatable Russian should climb into the cab and plainly command Solo to drive. Instead, Solo drives the truck onto the attacking boat and dives to retrieve his begrudged partner. The script continued following all the directions it would have been wise to avoid.
The cast was fine: no one did poorly, but none of these actors are memorable. Henry Cavill was all suave and no substance. His thief-turned-spy routine maintains a single note and an unpleasant monotonous tone that missed the James Bond of America effect. Alicia Vikander, that beautiful, ubiquitous actress who tends to steal every scene in which she appears, can’t find her character. Gaby’s strong, she has a troubled past. That’s about it. The writing doesn’t provide much substance on which to build, but for an actress so nuanced in Ex Machina, I would have expected more. I guess I’ll just have to wait for her in The Danish Girl, where it appears she has something with which to develop.
Surprisingly, her disappointingly romantic interest (meaning, why was there a romantic interest at all? My theory: they were attempting to fill time), Illya, played by Armie Hammer, presented the most favorable performance. His Russian accent was superb, and though the Soviet super spy routine has been done to death, he captures much of the humor in what could have been an overly serious character. He’s sexy and strong, and he gives hints of his soulless past, but there’s only so much that can be done with a script clearly written with a sequel in mind.
I imagine they’re hunting for a follow up. The victorious trio are drafted into U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, according to Wikipedia), and they are destined for Istanbul. The film exceeded its budget by $20 million, so a sequel is quite likely. Hopefully Istanbul can draw a better story and more cohesive script.