********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Guy Ritchie
Actors: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander
Four years is quite a long break between two films for a reputed and loved director like Guy Ritchie. After dazzling us with two Sherlock Holmes movies, the last one in 2011, Ritchie rode off into the sunset, only to emerge once more in 2015 with a fascinating spy-thriller. The anticipation for the movie was high, not surprisingly given Ritchie’s solid body of work. So does The Man from U.N.C.L.E. live upto Ritchie’s standards? It does and it does not. This one is a stylish film, made in a mould that only Guy Ritchie has mastered, giving his fans once more a high dosage of slick entertainment. The movie though comes in a year which has had its fair share of spy flicks, such as Kingsman: The Secret Service and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which have been thoroughly entertaining and full of high-octane action, such that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. pales in comparison. The yet-to-be-released Spectre should only add to this point. Eh, never mind the comparisons though, a Guy Ritchie movie has its own charm!
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based in the 1960s, when the tensions between USA and USSR were soaring. A divided Germany forms the background for the drama to unfold when Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a CIA operative, enters into East Germany to attempt the extraction of Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). The extraction gets complicated when a KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), pursues them to prevent their escape. Things are just getting warmed up! Soon Solo and Kuryakin are going to find themselves in a difficult position of having to work together to save the world from the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And Gaby unwillingly gets pulled into the mess. Despite the tensions running high, Solo and Kuryakin have to find a way to work together, because just like any other spy movie, the clock is ticking here too.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based on a television series of the same name which ran in the 1960s in the USA. The Guy Ritchie movie sort of acts like an origins tale to the TV series by digging into the first joint mission that the two main characters carry out together. The story, which is attributed to a number of writers including Guy Ritchie, brings out the friction wonderfully between Solo and Kuryakin right from the beginning. It maintains a strong competitiveness between the two throughout the movie, merging it here and there with a grudging acceptance of one another’s contribution to the joint mission. The tightrope which the two are walking adds to the intensity in the movie.
Guy Ritchie, being Guy Ritchie, does not give you a plain CIA v/s KGB dose. There is a lot of classiness to each scene, an ‘oomph’ factor which makes it visually delightful to watch. There is a richness to the whole tone of the movie which is difficult to put in words but easy to understand on seeing it. There are many moments in the movie which could not have been handled better by anyone other than Guy Ritchie. A boat chase scene with nice soothing Italian music playing in the background, a torture scene that is creepy but fixating, a finale which is not stretched beyond its breaking point. Such scenes remind you of why Guy Ritchie is regarded in the highest esteem. The disappointment with the movie though is that we expect many more such trademark scenes. The director who gave us cult classics like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch would always find it difficult to meet such high expectations with each film. But that is the boon and curse which Guy Ritchie carries. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. needed a bit more of his magic, so as to turn some average moments into memorable ones. The action too is a bit lacking for a spy flick, but those that we get to see are great fun. The camera angles are brilliant, and the music by Daniel Pemberton adds a lovely adventurous mood to the film. The production design is also fantastic, as the 60s look allows this movie to stand out a bit in the otherwise brimming market for spy flicks.
Doing justice to the vision of Guy Ritchie is the duo of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. Both of them are growing in stature in Hollywood, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. gives another example of the amount of confidence both of them carry. Cavill plays the sophisticated well-dressed spy with a lot of suave which makes him quite a contender to play James Bond at some stage in his career (Cavill is British, in case you did not know). Hammer steps with ease into the boots of a calculated tough Russian spy who is highly motivated to achieve his goals. The contrast between the two characters makes them an enjoyable duo to watch, helped by the fact that Cavill and Hammer are impressive with their screen presence. Joining them is another rising star, Alicia Vikander, who is bright, energetic, and has a charm about her which ensures that she never goes unnoticed. Just like Rebecca Ferguson’s character in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was highly loved by all, the role of Alicia Vikander’s character too has a bit more resolve about her; there is more to this character than what initially meets the eye, and Vikander brings in a lot of personality to the role. Hugh Grant has a brief but enjoyable appearance in the movie. The villainous roles played out by Sylvester Groth, Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani are a bit more straightforward, lacking in terms of character development. But this movie was never about its villains!
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may not match some of the great previous works of Guy Ritchie but it does the director’s reputation no harm either. The movie has its own style, its own charm, its own uniqueness in story-telling. Talented actors, lavish landscapes, captivating story, and a brilliant director, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has to be an above average flick. Thankfully, there will not be another four year waiting period for a Guy Ritchie film. He is already filming Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur which has a July 2016 release planned for now. Exciting times ahead!