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

Like Hitler, Guy Ritchie has a certain style. Which doesn’t make either of them an artist. However, Ritchie has finally learned how to make a kick-ass action movie, and in adapting a somewhat silly and camp British 1960s TV series, the director has found something that fits his talents and temperament like a tight, flash suit. By far superior to his laughably bad Sherlock Holmes films, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a slick adventure that moves along at a clip from one set piece to the next, connected by banter—not witty, but efficient in setting up each character.

The plot revolves around a Nazi group’s plan to develop a nuclear weapon to rule the world. In a rare act of Cold War co- operation, CIA and KGB spies—elegant, charming Napoleon Solo and hulking, ill-tempered Illya Kuryakin—team up in order to infiltrate the group with the help of the head scientist’s cute daughter, Gaby, who Solo has rescued from East Germany despite Kuryakin’s attempts to stop him. Many fights and flight follow, allowing for mucho bassy kabooms, impressively hurtling car chases, requisite split screens, and involving music that all make for exciting home theater.

Contrast is good throughout, with two-tone dresses emitting bright whites and deep blacks. Other ’60s fashions and furnishings of purples, mustards, and pinks, plus a startlingly deep green pissoir all provide rich, vibrant color. Even in the many dark scenes, everything is clear, crisp, and highly detailed so you can see every slicked-back hair on Solo’s scalp, texture to Mr. Waverly’s felt hat, and intricacies to tie patterns and Gaby’s assort- ment of earrings.

Ritchie is kinda-almost as good as Quentin Tarantino at putting together disparate, wide-ranging music styles from around the world, and it all works well in this ace mix. Flutey high-hatting harpsichordy harmonium finger-clickin’ conglomerations of sexy spy music by Jerry Goldsmith are mixed in with Italian pop of the era, Lalo Schifrin, and soul that sometimes starts in a tinny transistor radio and then rapidly comes pouring into the room, filling it and immersing you in the distinct music. Ritchie and crew can also inventively edit, as when the noises of a boat battle are drowned out by a slow, swoony Italian pop ballad or a car chase with flamenco, the clapping seemingly coming from the center of the room. Nina Simone also serenades you, and slow-building Ennio Morricone sounds stupendous in 7.1. The opening poppy jazz number starts in the right rear and then spreads to the right surround, then a drum comes in from the left rear and surround before other well- separated instruments join in from the front. Safe latches clicking open, door knocks, and rain all are very lifelike, and dialogue is always full and clear despite loud, accurately tracked train and car effects panning, convincing location atmospherics, and frequent ballistics.

Extras consist of six enjoyable, tightly crammed behind-the-scenes featurettes. Subjects include ’60s cool—with Ritchie admitting that he doesn’t care about period authenticity, just whether the fantasy appears authentic—the designing of the film’s bespoke motorcycles, action sequences, actors Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the always improvis- ing director, and a roundup of leftover bits.

Let the franchise commence!

Studio: Warner Bros., 2015
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1
Length: 116 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Hugh Grant, Alicia Vikander

brenro's picture

What was British about the original TV series?

Michaela's picture

And I don't mean the non-physical April Dancer as portrayed by Stephanie Powers. Now, let the franchise commence!

funambulistic's picture

“Like Hitler, Guy Ritchie has a certain style. Which doesn’t make either of them an artist.” What an asinine way to start a review – neither “artistic” nor “journalistic” or, quite frankly, “entertaining” (though it is a sure-fire way of getting clickbait [that is, if anyone is reading – wait, I guess that is me]). I am blessed with a pretty thick skin and not much offends me (I am not offended now; puzzled is more the state of mind) but I imagine countless alternate analogies could have been conjured by the “creative” mind of the reviewer.

With that out of the way, I agree with most of the review of this specific movie, though I would consider myself a bit more enthusiastic in Ritchie’s creation. I have been a fan of Guy since “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” is a phenomenal piece of work and quite the successful “action” film. The biggest mistake of Mr. Ritchie’s career was the marriage to Ms. Ciccone. She seems to be vampyric in nature and sucks the creativity out of anyone in close relation with her (I am joking – I do not personally know the woman and how her witchcraft works). I never saw the subsequent movie with her in it and “Revolver” definitely had a post-Madonna hangover feel, but “RocknRolla” found Guy Ritchie back on firm, creative ground. To call his Sherlock Holmes movies “laughably bad” is, well, laughable as they were highly imaginative, entertaining and well done (the chase through the woods in the second movie is one of the finest “action” scenes I have ever witnessed). As the reviewer stated, “Ritchie admitting that he doesn’t care about period authenticity, just whether the fantasy appears authentic.” This describes the SH movies perfectly and I hope they do possibly one more. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” is an extension, refinement and evolution of Guy Ritchie’s craft and here is looking forward to “Knights of the Roundtable”!