Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Is More Style Than Substance
Title: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Director: Guy Richie
Screenwriter: Guy Ritchie (screenplay), Lionel Wigram (screenplay), Jeff Kleeman (story), David C. Wilson (story) (as David Campbell Wilson), Guy Ritchie (story), Lionel Wigram (story), and Sam Rolfe (based on the television series by)
Principal Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, and Hugh Grant
Summary: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has been one of those movies that I’ve known about in the back of my mind but forgot about with the bigger releases that have been taking up most of popular culture’s attention this year. However, the cast was strong enough and I’m a huge fan of Alicia Vikander after her stunning turn in Ex Machina earlier this year. I also tend to enjoy Guy Ritchie movies even if they aren’t always the most in depth things you’ll see this year. I’ve never watched the show, though, so I had no real investment one way or another if this movie turned out to be good or not.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. might not have the most original story but the chemistry between the main cast members combined with sharp dialogue and Richie’s stylized direction makes up for the lack of substance.
As I said I don’t believe I’ve ever watched the original show so I can’t comment as a fan of that. In some ways that makes my perspective different from those that do remember the show because I didn’t have anything to compare The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to. In that case I enjoyed it enough. The stylized direction that is so common to Guy Ritchie movies is well used and really helps bring out the 1960’s era. The direction was never too much or got in the way of me enjoying the movie, but I could see some people getting a little irritated with it. It only helped instead of hindered for me.
The cast also has great chemistry though that is mostly due to the two male leads. While I was on the side of Gaby (Alicia Vikander) to stay away from both of the guys that she was working with, it was Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya (Armie Hammer) that I thought had the most interesting dynamic. Vikander does a good job but her character doesn’t feel like it evolves that much over the course of the movie and the script can’t help but make her a damsel come the end of the movie. Hammer’s KGB agent is probably the most interesting character out of the entire cast as he seems on the edge of some sort of full blown psychotic meltdown at any moment. Cavill’s Solo doesn’t seem to have much to him beneath the surface, and while Cavill isn’t bad he plays the role so smooth that he seems almost without flaws. I’ve always found those types of character much less interesting. However, when Cavill and Hammer are together on screen they have a great back and forth.
The movie is far from perfect. The thing that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. suffers from is a very generic story. Aside from the twist of America and Russia working together during the height of the Cold War there isn’t a twist that isn’t predictable. The movie also lacks anything that resembles real tension. There are moments where things seem dire but the comedic tone that the script and dialogue go for just undercut it. A better movie might be able to make that dissonance work, but here it just made everything feel a bit too lighthearted. It breaks the flow of the movie at times and the juxtaposition doesn’t work. The stakes never feel high despite the fact that we’re dealing with the sale of the most deadly weapon in the world.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. manages to overcome its missteps with great, snappy dialogue and a dynamic between its two main leads that is fun to watch even if there isn’t anything interesting going on in the background. I’d like to see more of this cast with a better story around them to see if the generic story really is the thing that makes this movie merely “pretty good” compared to “great”.