THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.. Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant. Directed by Guy Ritchie. 116 minutes. M (Violence).
After adding a curious blend of modern sensibility and period style to his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films, director Guy Ritchie has naturally now turned his eye towards another unusual bit of source material – the 1964 MGM television series of the same name. While prioritising style over substance, it is another highly entertaining addition to the filmmaker’s canon.
It is 1963, and Cold War politics are in full swing. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), former art thief extraordinaire cum CIA superspy, helps East Berlin car mechanic Gaby (Alicia Vikander) escape over the Wall. In exchange, she is to help the CIA locate her father, a nuclear scientist who has been working for some questionable types led by the steely Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). Pursuing the pair is Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a hulking KGB agent driven by pathological rage. The sequence oozes cool, with Ritchie’s signature quick-fire editing courtesy of James Herbert, and some tense moments to boot.
As it turns out, the threat posed by the renegade criminals and their possible nuke is so great that the CIA and KGB must put aside their differences to defeat the menace together. Naturally, this means Napoleon and Illya – clearly the least suitable partners in the entirety of global spy agencies – will partner up with Gaby to go undercover in Rome, where her uncle may hold the answer to locating her father and any weapons he has been working on.
The two leads are charismatic and physically imposing presences – Cavill carrying his Superman bulk, Hammer simply because he always has been. It suits their roles, and their accents (Cavill is a Brit playing an American, and Hammer an American playing a Soviet) are convincing. Alicia Vikander brings some tension to the dynamic, often sexual, posing as Illya’s fiancé to create a convincing cover. Her role appears to be little more than a damsel in distress for much of the film, though it takes a turn for the better following one of the film’s twists.
The script, written by Ritchie and his serial collaborator and producer Lionel Wigram, is zippy and light, which occasionally undermines its desire to big note the mortal peril. However, the layers of very accessible humour and sharp dialogue more than compensate. The camerawork is equally dynamic, a feature of Ritchie’s directorial approach which has stuck with him since his independent film roots, though he has added a swathe of polished split screens and transitions to his toolkit here. Combined with the groovy period details in design, costuming and music, and the whole movie is simply good fun.
It doesn’t really plumb the depths of its Cold War setting, but it’s a worthy diversion if you’re looking for some light entertainment. It sets up a franchise in its closing scene, and this reviewer at least is looking forward to returning to the team from U.N.C.L.E..
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 13.