Friday, August 14, 2015

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

Two things are immediately evident from watching Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. First, there's no disputing that the man is a bona fide movie star. Despite having issues with some of the projects he's chosen (such as Zach Snyder's horrific re-imagining of Superman), there's no doubt Cavill has "it." Second, based on his appearance as con man turned super-spy Napoleon Solo, it's obvious that he would make a terrific James Bond balancing the swagger and inner-bastard of the character with aplomb. Not since Connery have we seen a character like this on-screen.

And he isn't the only one worthy of note. Armie Hammer's portrayal of the brutish Russian killer may be a bit one-note, but it certainly washes away the lingering bad taste of The Lone Ranger. Alicia Vikander proves to be a lovely third wheel while, much to my surprise, co-writer/director Guy Ritchie holds back on his usual frantic pace to deliver an equally humorous and cool film about Cold War spies that constantly impresses. Ritchie has struggled to adapt his high-octane style to period pieces in the past (see Sherlock Holmes), but that's not the case here as only once does Ritchie's grittier nature appear on-screen. Thankfully, he quickly remembers what kind of film he was hired to deliver.

Filled with 60s style, a pitch-perfect score from Felix Erskine, and terrific use of film effects matched to the cinematography of John Mathieson to keep the film moving while showcasing some of the action sequences in an almost comic book style, Ritchie delivers a movie that I thought him incapable of crafting. Adding the strong leading performances, even throwing in a fun role for Hugh Grant, and you've got the makings of one hell of a good time at the movies.

Based on the 1960's television show of the same name, the film involves the unlikely partnership between CIA Agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB Operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), who are pitted against each other in the movie's opening scene, as part of a joint operation to locate a missing scientist who they believe may be making an atomic bomb for a secret terrorist organization. Necessary to their success, and also introduced in that opening scene, is the scientist's daughter Gaby (Vikander) who is the key to finding the scientist, his research, and the bomb. To survive and succeed the pair will have to find a way to trust each other, which isn't easy when their boss' have ordered each of them to betray their partner if necessary.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn't perfect. Besides the torture sequence where it comes dangerously close to loosing its delightful tone and pace it otherwise delivers throughout, Elizabeth Debicki is something of a disappointment as the villain. Perhaps anyone would have been overshadowed by Cavill and Hammer, but despite being alluring Debicki isn't given much to do. The fact that the threat is the bomb as much, if not more, than her possession of it allows the film to work despite not further fleshing out her character.

For what's been a mostly forgettable summer it's certainly picking up steam towards the end. Spies, it seems, have come to save the day. As with Mission: Impossible -Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. the kind of summer action flick we should be getting more of. And, for the second time in a period of two weeks, I've seen a film I would gladly return to the theater to watch again.

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