Film review – The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Cold war espionage thriller, rebooting the hit 60s TV show. Directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander. 

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
We have a curious affection for history in this country, mainly because compared to, say, America we actually have some.
For many, it’s in our literature, for others, the Empire. Our musical heritage is a popular choice, while the supposed “Golden Age Of British Cinema” is also often cited – but when do they mean ? The Hitchcock pre-war classics or the 80s and 90s, when Merchant Ivory and Richard Curtis ruled the roost ?
Well, actually THIS is the golden age of British cinema: we’re in it, right now, folks.
Think about it for a second .. have you ever seen Hollywood so chockful of our actors and directors ?
Cumberbatch, Hardy, Pattinson, Garfield, Redmayne, Elba, Hiddleston, Sheen, Oyelowo, off the top of my head. All British men.
Emilia Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Naomie Harris, Emily Blunt, Emma Watson. All British women.
That’s just the movies .. if you count the big TV shows, the current invasion makes Beatlemania look like a garden party.

And so we come to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (TMFU).
The original TV show was something of an American take on the world of James Bond. As the cold war gripped the nation and with tensions riding high, what could be more riveting than pairing a suave US spy with a Russian contemporary ? This was the era of the double agent after all, and Ian Fleming himself helped develop the concept.
Fast forward to today and it’s come full circle with a British director, leading man and several cast members, including a couple of scene-stealing cameos from Hugh Grant.

In Henry Cavill, I believe we’ve found the next James Bond. But that can wait … for now, let’s rewind to the 60s.

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Guy Ritchie has carved himself a nice little niche, making supremely stylish movies with a kitsch, almost camp quality to them. Almost. That’s a very important word.
While TMFU tiptoes along a wobbly line of absurdity at times, it never, ever falls over the edge. It remains a macho, often violent movie, yet the action in this thriller is never really physical .. it’s actually more cerebral than that, so much so that when the big assault scene finally takes place, it’s cut up and chopped through like a pastiche of a music video. The director clearly wants to focus on the character chemistry rather than the explosion count …
Like the Sherlock movies before it, Ritchie has managed to imbue TMFU with details and subtlety. Some you’ll spot, knowing they’ll likely be referred to later in the story, others you won’t, but don’t worry because it all comes out in the wash.
It’s a very knowing way of making movies, almost to the point of being smug – again, the word “almost” is key here – but the great thing about Ritchie is he wants to share everything with the audience. He understands you want to be entertained when you watch one of his films. He assumes a certain level of intelligence. He likes good dialogue. He loves sexual tension. He knows the importance of music: excellent, original and perfectly matched music.
He also knows how to do a remake, reboot, re-imagining.
He boils everything down to the roots, distilling the very essence of a story, before building it back up again, adding layer after layer of the specific ingredients that made up the original, but all with a dash of the new.
In short, he knows how to make statement pictures and TMFU is very definitely a statement.

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Maybe it’s the Bond thing at work again. Like the original show, perhaps it’s a knee-jerk reaction to him not getting the directorial gig for the real thing ?
The film is actually more like a cross between Roger Moore era 007 and his own Sherlock Holmes movies. The plot is sufficiently Sixties in that there’s a nuclear bomb up for grabs, with the Russkies on one side, the Yanks on the other and us Brits stuck in the middle. The story opens in – where else ? – East Berlin and is a brilliant, extended set-piece that serves well as an appetizer for what’s to follow ..
With both super-powers up against each other, what better way to ramp things up than forcing an agent from each side to team up for the greater good ? Throw in some undercover nazis, a couple of beautiful women, lots of sexy cars, some great outfits and the soundtrack of the year and you’ve got yourself one of the grooviest adventures to hit the screen in a long time.

The plot is suitably bonkers, but played straight throughout. There’s no arched eyebrows on display here and while there are some very funny scenes, everyone just carries on doing what they’re doing, meaning the humour is more subtle than the more conventional, played-for style.

I can’t really say much more about the story without giving away spoilers, but I can say that it keeps you guessing throughout, and to the end.
Both stylized and stylish, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is bold and beautiful and extremely well crafted. With a fairly low-key marketing campaign, I’m not sure how long it’ll be on the big screen for but it’s worth seeing while you can – it’s one of those movies that deserves to be watched in a cinema.

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