Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris
Written by: (also story) Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, (story) Jeff Kleeman, David Campbell Wilson and (based on the television series) Sam Rolfe
Running Time: 116 mins
Release date: 14th August 2015
Guy Ritchie’s career has been one of extreme ups and perilous downs. After changing the face of British gangster movies (and influencing a stream of pretty dire copycats) with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he crashed and burned with the terrible Swept Away and Revolver, only to pick himself up with RocknRolla and then to move to Victorian London for two hugely successful Sherlock Holmes films. So where does he go from here? How about a remake of a 60’s TV spy film that is possibly the most anti-blockbuster blockbuster ever. Enter The Man from U.N.C.L.E, possibly the best looking film this year, as well as a film that turns, in a world of superheroes, explosions and set pieces, refuses to conform.
With tensions rising between America and Russia, a nuclear scientist has disappeared from East Berlin. Believing that he is working for an organisation building a bomb, the CIA and KGB must work together to track him down. American agent and former thief Napoleon Solo is forced to work with Russian Illya Kuryakin. Yet this is a partnership that might implode before they find their target.
Ritchie has taken this popular show that originally starred Robert Vaughn and David McCullam and instead of expecting everyone to know of its previous life as a TV programme, gives us an origin story which takes the best elements of the 60’s Bond films (Ian Fleming contributed to the original show) with nods to more familiar films (The Great Escape gets a salute, as does Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).
The story may be wafer thin but what the film lacks in plotting, it certainly makes up in style. Every frame looks like something from the period it’s set, from it’s luscious locations to the incredible costumes. Never has a film had such classy suits and outfits that you literally can hear how soft they are. All credit must go to the production designers and costume department, for this is a master stroke of sophistication.
Yet does the rest of the film hold up? Yes, it does. It may not pounce along like most of the modern blockbusters but the pace, as leisurely as it is, allows the three main protagonists to develop proper relationships. Napoleon and Illya, at first common enemies, forced to work together, eventually grow to respect each other and it is this growing partnership that sparkles and brings the film to light. Add into the mix, Gaby, the beautiful yet suspicious woman who is looking for her father and you have a top-notch team that are just a joy to be around.
The performances are as cool as the whole style of the film. Henry Cavill, stepping away from Superman duties, uses his smooth as silk vocal skills to impress as Solo, while Armie Hammer, last seen in the disastrous The Lone Ranger, does a near perfect Russian as Illya. Alicia Vikander almost walks away with the film as Gaby but is beaten to the punch by Elizabeth Debicki’s ultra-cool villainess, Victoria.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E may not explode onto the screen and some might find it a little too wordy but with some very unexpected comic moments (never has a truck been used so well to stop some baddies) and superb soundtrack and some genuinely enjoyable set pieces, this has to be the coolest, classiest blockbuster this year and I, for one, am looking forward to more of the same.