The 400-Word Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
By Sean Collier
August 20, 2015
There seems to have been no motivating factor behind a big-screen Man from U.N.C.L.E. beyond a massive, industry-wide, “Eh, why not.” The TV series is more than 50 years in age, and the rights were originally optioned a staggering 22 years ago. For a sense of how long this property has been kicking around, consider that Quentin Tarantino was briefly attached to direct ... as a follow-up to Pulp Fiction.
After all that waiting, then, the end product is... good enough, I suppose? If you were hoping that decades in development means plenty of time to get it right, you don’t know the movie business.
Under the direction of Guy Ritchie (in his first non-Sherlock project since 2008’s Rocknrolla), U.N.C.L.E. aims for the midpoint between spy spoof and spy homage, an increasingly comfortable spot for filmmakers to target. And with good reason: the genre is so tired, so thoroughly explored (and so beholden to Bond) that no straight treatment can be taken seriously, unless it’s a hyper-realistic, modern attempt.
We meet the dreadfully-monikered Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) as he attempts to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from the unhappy side of the Berlin Wall. He’s relentlessly pursued by a seemingly-superhuman Russian agent; moments later, it’s determined that Teller’s father is being held captive by the last vestiges of the Nazi party, and he knows how to make nuclear bombs — a situation so dire that the U.S. and Russia must deal with it together.
That means Solo will be working with his rival, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). They’ve got a lead on a fabulously wealthy socialite, Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), so they jet off to Rome to go undercover and look ridiculously good while doing so.
The story doesn’t offer much; if you’ve seen one ragtag group try to recover a nuke, you’ve seen them all. Fortunately, the eminently stylish Ritchie uses every trick he knows to make U.N.C.L.E. engaging, fun and constantly cool. The cast shines as well; Hammer and Cavill play off each other quite well, even as many scenes are stolen by Vikander. And Debicki is one of the most underrated talents working today. Will it revitalize its genre? Certainly not. But The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is good enough to justify its own existence; after half a century, that’s saying something.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark