Cinematic Releases: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Guy Ritchie returns with an unexpectedly good remake of the classic tv show.

"Damn. Look at all the hookers
hanging out around the corner!"
August is usually the dumping ground for movie studios. It’s pretty rare that a film released in August will be anything to write home about. Just last weekend we got bent over by the Fantastic Four. “Here’s your boredom. That’ll be ten bucks, please.” So it was with some trepidation, despite very promising trailers and a director who seems to be on a roll, that I sat down to watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Disclaimer: I’ve never seen the television show this film is derived from.) My apprehension was dispelled within minutes of Guy Ritchie’s fiercely entertaining and uproariously funny take on the Cold War spy espionage genre. This is one of the best films of the summer.

The action scenes are certainly anything but cliche. Ritchie uses music of the period for such ironical passages of action staging that you have no choice but to sit back and be amazed at how much fun you’re having not watching stuff explode. So many directors use visual effects and a large budget to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the camera. Ritchie approaches every sequence from a comedic point of view. He restrains himself, keeping the focus on the characters, and especially on the laughs. But when the time comes to blow stuff up real good, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. does not disappoint there either, and it means more because we actually give a damn about the people being shot at.

Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as the CIA operative, Napoleon Solo (that really is an amazing spy name). With this performance he officially becomes a movie star. Granted, the stigma of being Superman will undoubtedly follow him around for the rest of his life, but here we can see a side of Cavill that hasn’t yet been seen. He’s appropriately suave, commanding, debonair, and funny as hell. Across the Iron Curtain, Armie Hammer reminds us why Disney thought he was a sure thing in The Lone Ranger — because he is terrific in the right role, and this one is spot on. Alicia Vikander delivers a breakout performance as Gaby. She’s vulnerable but she’s no push over, and we can add her to the list of kick-ass women that 2015 has brought us on the screen. Jared Harris also finds his inner George C. Scott with a supporting performance and an American accent that feels almost psychically channeled from this bygone era.

"We're waiting for pancakes!
The service in this place sucks!"
Ultimately, the biggest pleasure of this film really is its simplicity. Ritchie and his co-writer Lionel Wigram have created an old fashioned spy thriller comedy that, in the mere act of being old fashioned, feels fresh and invigorated from go. The story is set, the pieces are put in place, Ritchie pulls the rip cord and lets his actors loose. It never feels overwrought, convoluted or weighed down under the invisible pressure of trying to stay two steps ahead of the audience. This is a film that is driven by performance and dialogue, so despite the embedded machinations required for the genre, it feels free-formed and untouched by the usual studio meddling. Guy Ritchie has clearly earned his stripes with his blockbuster Sherlock Holmes series, so this must have been his gift from Warner Brothers. This is how it feels to experience a film when the director has the budget and the freedom to use his style however he wants. Sign me up for another. We officially forgive him for Swept Away.

- Blake O. Kleiner

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