One of the more beloved TV series of the 1960s was certainly NBC’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was the network’s way of answering the James Bond craze. Robert Vaughn starred as CIA agent Napoleon Solo, who was teamed with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum. For years, Warner Bros has been trying to mount a movie version of the iconic show and finally, thanks to the inventive direction of Guy Ritchie, it is on the screen and looking good. It’s fun stuff for those who want to indulge.
As I say in my video review (click the link above), one key saving grace of this U.N.C.L.E. incarnation is that it doesn’t attempt to go all contemporary on us, and instead stays true to the exact era of the original series with a setting in 1963. In fact, this film offers up something the series never really did, which is to create a comprehensive origin story of just how a CIA and KGB agent team-up came about in the first place.
But what really makes it hum is the unexpectedly cool pairing of Henry Cavill (Superman) as Solo and Armie Hammer, sporting a nifty Russian accent, as Kuryakin and having his best film outing since The Social Network (it is probably best to forget J. Edgar and his Lone Ranger). These two have a real easygoing chemistry and quick wit in delivering the sharply amusing dialogue from writers Lionel Wigram and Ritchie (Jeff Kleeman and David Campbell Wilson also had a hand in creating the story). If the film works at all, and I think it does pretty well, it is due to the interplay between its stars as well as the snappy colorful direction from Ritchie, whose in-your-face style suits this material very well.
Ritchie also captures the spirit of spy movies of the era and keeps things moving. The basic plot has the pair teaming to stop a plot by World War II fascists who are determined to get their hands on a nuclear device — and to use it. At first this takes them to East Berlin, where they track down a young woman (Alicia Vikander) whose father, a nuclear scientist, has gone missing and most likely is in the hands of the bad guys (or woman, in this case, played with evil elan by Elizabeth Debicki). She’s one-half of the team they have to stop before its too late. Of course this assignment takes them to some great European locations, especially Italy, where much of the action happens. Vikander, the Swedish actress who is very hot right now, is terrific in the key femme role and has some nice encounters with both spies as she is forced to pose as the fiancee of Kuryakin, now going undercover.
The film produced by John Davis, Steve Clark-Hall, Ritchie and Wigram has style to burn and should ratchet up the nostalgia factor for baby boomers and older audiences who remember this kind of spy caper, so prevalent in the ’60s and now largely kept alive by the likes of Bond and Bourne.
Do you plan to see The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Let us know what you think.