Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015). Director: Guy Ritchie.

Back during the days of the Cold War, CIA agent Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) crosses figurative swords with Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) when the two are on opposite sides of a mission in which the former is helping a woman named Gaby (Alicia Vikander) get out from behind the iron curtain. Gaby is the daughter of a former Nazi scientist, Dr. Teller, who has been working on a nuclear device for an organization run by the sinister Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). Solo, Illya and Gaby's new mission is to infiltrate Victoria's operation and find the bomb, even as the two male agents are told their respective countries must win the arms race and get their hands on a certain disc, over each other's dead bodies if necessary. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a refashioning of an old television series that many of today's moviegoers have never heard of or even seen. There are so many changes that you wonder why they even made the movie under this title or who the audience for the picture was supposed to be. As in several old Eurospy movies and more recent TV shows, Solo is turned into a black market criminal who is blackmailed into working for the CIA. Hugh Grant [Love Actually] plays Waverly, but the name "U.N.C.L.E." is only referred to as a codename in the final moments of the picture. Victoria's organization isn't given a name, and THRUSH, the main adversary of the heroes in the TV series, is never mentioned. There are no cameos by the stars of the series, Robert Vaughn or David McCallum. Speaking of which, Henry Cavill's [Immortals] performance as an arch, super-cool, stylish super-spy isn't bad for what it is, but the man has absolutely no charm, at least in this. Hammer is more on the mark as a different kind of Illya, but the movie is stolen by Debicki as the villainess, who makes Gervaise Ravel of the old show seem like a piker in comparison. Director Ritchie tries to make the film different and whimsical, but this approach often backfires, such as when what could have been an exciting scene on a river is muffed by the "cute" stylistics. Some of the other action sequences are okay, however. Arguably the best and most darkly comical scene in the movie involves Solo being tortured by Gaby's sadistic Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth), whose ultimate fate is pleasantly ironical, as is Victoria's in the film's entertaining (if rather abrupt) climax. John Mathieson's cinematography is outstanding, guaranteeing that the film looks great, but the score, a hodge podge of generally inappropriate musical cues, is terrible, with a fairly hideous theme song wailed by a female singer. If Jerry Goldsmith's terrific theme for the TV show is in there somewhere, I missed it. The women in the film are attractive, but not especially glamorous a la James Bond; in fact one could argue that most of the sexual tension in this is between the two men, (although it must be said that being a stylish clothes horse with good taste doesn't always add up to being gay, or vice versa). The script for this is somewhere between one of the really bad overly campy episodes of the old series and the much better ones of the first and fourth seasons.

Verdict: This isn't totally terrible and there are enjoyable moments and performances. Fans of the show will probably be disappointed, however. **1/2.

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