August 17, 2015


Lately, many have tried to recreate the classic yet mod yet buttoned down yet swinging Cold War 60's. Guy Ritchie's stylish and tasty "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." succeeds with flying colors and begs to be seen on the big screen. This film is as much a comedy as it is an action flick. An American spy (a dapper, smooth and scene-commanding Henry Cavill) is teamed with a Russian spy (the charming, criminally underused comedic genius, Armie Hammer). Throw two femme fatales into the mix: Gaby, "Ex Machina's" Alicia Vikkander (who seemed a bit out of her league here or just lacked confidence), and Elizabeth Debicki (a vicious villainess who makes Cruella de Ville look like Shirley Temple).

The plot is thick and zesty. The United States and Russia have teamed up to stop a nuclear bomb from being made and sold by an Italian shipping cartel with Nazi connections, helmed by the evil Victoria (Debicki). The mission is enlivened by an endless competition between the two respective spies: the Soviet and the cowboy. An East German woman (Vikkander) is recruited as bait to help find her father, the scientist forced to create the bomb under duress. Find the father? Find the bomb. This perfect set-up of three mismatched nationals creates lots of friction from the start.

There aren't too many crazy twists and turns, but you do have to stay on your toes to follow the wordy exposition. The sure-footed pace takes its time and leaves room for tongue-in-cheek, kitschy dialogue, lots of deadpanning, and always a darn good time. Profanity is nil. It's not needed. Too much grownup, sophisticated fun is being had. The predicaments and chases are fresh, and the whole film masterfully avoids clich├ęs.

Being that Guy Ritchie is British, you know that Merry Old England will have to put in an appearance at some point in this League of Nations caper--in the form of Hugh Grant. All the actors keep up the grand conceit with great aplomb. Hammer and Debicki are still in their 20's but have old soul acting chops.

"U.N.C.L.E." mixes the gimmicks of yesteryear filmmaking (crazy camera angles, split screens, quick zooms and blocky typefaces) with today's digital abilities. "U.N.C.L.E." sports one of the best soundtracks I've ever experienced in a film. It's a character in the film. It's loud and lush and choreographed, but never just plunked in. It makes the film feel like a music video in places. Although blaring and mixed with electronica, the beats and rhythms and songsters featured in the soundtrack are always and only utterly human. You never feel like you're being ground up by a music machine.

It's truly PG-13 except for one fleeting almost-nude shot of a woman that was totally unnecessary in the midst of classy relationships between the sexes and mild innuendo. The torture section was a little too long and dark for the tone of this film, even though it ended on a much lighter note.

The ending (which leads directly into a sequel) actually has a jovial message of peace that isn't too far-fetched. "U.N.C.L.E." may be just a fun romp, but it also has a generous helping of heart and soul.

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