Arrow Video 4K: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) - Reviewed

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. August of 2015 also gave us Fan4stic, and we all know how that turned out. So it was with some trepidation that I remember sitting 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 uproariously funny take on the Cold War espionage thriller. Nine years later, this remains one of the most fiercely entertaining — and criminally neglected — films of 2015.

But, as always, it’s Arrow to the rescue, and they’ve hit the bull’s eye once again with this flawlessly delivered limited edition 4K UHD of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Complete with a Dolby Atmos mix that kicks at the eardrums, a slew of interviews, and special features; even a featurette to acquaint newcomers with the original television series and its influence on this modern retelling. Which must have been considerable. It’s rare to see a period piece that truly feels informed by its era and not skewed through the prism of modernity, but Ritchie’s production team were clearly committed to showcasing a faithful representation of a show that fans remember fondly. It’s a shame that American audiences didn’t flock to it more. I guess they were too busy watching disposable re-quels like The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. Barf.

Unlike those higher grossing but mediocre entertainments, the action scenes in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are anything but cliche. Ritchie uses music of the period with such an ironical touch 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 here from a comedic point of view. He restrains himself, keeping the focus on the characters, letting them dig for the laughs with arcs and characterization fueled by unfettered charisma. 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.
"We're waiting for pancakes!
The service in this place sucks!"

Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as the CIA operative, Napoleon Solo (that really is an amazing spy name). With this performance he officially became a movie star. Granted, the stigma of being Superman will follow him around for the rest of his life, but here we saw a side of Cavill that hadn’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. Alicia Vikander delivered one of her many breakout performances that year as Gaby. She’s vulnerable but she’s no push over. She’s a kick-ass woman with the spunk and tenacity we would expect in a film from a director whose body of best work vibrates with those adjectives. 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.

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. 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 almost improvisational and untouched by studio meddling. Guy Ritchie earned his stripes with his blockbuster Sherlock Holmes series (Part 3, please?), 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. I officially forgive him for Swept Away.

- Blake O. Kleiner

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