*Originally Published in the Monroe News*
The fourth in a chain of spy movies this year, Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a film adaptation of the 1960’s TV show, privileges the cool and glamour of the spy profession over the bang and sizzle of more action oriented takes on the genre. If you’re looking for high octane stunts, go see “Rogue Nation.” If you want beautiful people to make you laugh - see this one.
Pairing the American art thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), blackmailed into service by the CIA, and the Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), “The Man from Uncle” follows the ideologically opposed spies as they seek out a rogue organization manufacturing nuclear weapons. To do so, they must work with Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the mechanic daughter of the ex-Nazi scientist allegedly coerced into building the bomb. But the plot takes a passenger seat in this extravaganza of spy cool.
From the opening sequence, which pits Solo against Kuryakin against one another in a race to Ms. Teller, Mr. Ritchie takes time between action for Solo to simply be cool, shooting off one-liners and demands with swagger. Kuryakin, on the other hand, while he has his moments of cool, comes off as a hot tempered but by-the-book brute. And that’s okay, because unlike in his “Sherlock Holmes” films, the two very different agents ultimately can’t succeed without one another. They differ vastly, but compliment one another well.
While several plot twists await throughout the nearly two-hour yarn, they’re never too compelling, serving rather as vehicles for what Mr. Ritchie really wants to focus on with this film: pretty people acting and interacting. Even the primary villain is more saunter and smolder than believable threat. The movie takes place in the 1960s, but you’d never know it if it weren't for the occasional rotary phone. Everything feels so hyper stylized, from the costumes to set pieces. The period-appropriate spy score by Daniel Pemberton adds to Mr. Ritchie’s thesis of a sensory-oriented experience.
Except for an intentionally hectic multi-screen scene in the third act, the action burns slowly, again serving in a secondary role of highlighting character cool or allowing them an opportunity to exchange witty banter. Some scenes delve into the absurd in this pursuit, but they never seem out of place - a testament to the film’s consistency and self-awareness.
Like I said in my review of “Rogue Nation,” I ran to my car and tried to slide over the hood after watching Mr. Cruise's latest spy caper. After leaving “Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” I was more inclined to buy a new suit. Sacrificing narrative depth and action, this film provides ample doses of cinema glam by using and often subverting spy genre tropes.