Friday, August 14, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. review

It's that eternal quest for Hollywood studios. Find a movie franchise that can rake in the money for shareholders. Sometimes this means raiding beloved old TV shows when the studio suits can't take a risk on anything creatively new. Mission Impossible. Bewitched. What next, The Beverly Hillbillies? Um, never mind on that one. Well, Warner Brothers has just released a feature film, based on the sixties TV show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and given it the same title. What did you expect? "The Search for More Money Affair?"

This new movie takes place during the Cold War, roughly 1962-1963 as we constantly see TV clips of President John F. Kennedy. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is in East Berlin trying to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) who's nuclear scientist father has gone missing. The fact the guy can build a nuclear bomb is disturbing to the Americans. The Soviets have dispatched KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to also grab her. Solo succeeds in getting her out. However, the Russians and Americans believe that the father has been kidnapped by Nazi sympathizers Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and her husband, Alexander. (Luca Calvani) The Americans and the Russians team Solo and Kuryakin to infiltrate Vinciguerra's company, find Gaby's father and possibly get his plans for the nuclear bomb.

Director Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram's script is okay. I mean it's got some good jokes and nicely sets up the sixties Cold War spy story. But what's the purpose to use the U.N.C.L.E. organization in name of the movie since the film is almost all about how Solo and Kuryakin met and their first mission. Oh, yeah, it's that franchise thing.

There are problems. It's Ritche's direction that deflates parts of this movie. First, let me talk about the music. I was expecting to hear Jerry Goldsmith's iconic spy theme from the TV show. I can barely recall it being in this movie. Then Ritchie uses some strange and novel music. Some of it is sixties pop that doesn't fit and some of it is weird electronic music. The movie would have been better served with orchestral spy type music. Other times, there were scenes that cried out for music. The romantic scenes needed it.

Needed much more of this type of music and theme, Guy.

And that brings us to Ritchie's handling of sex scenes. They're not very sexy. Those scenes feel as if they were shot by a virgin teenage boy. They're unsure, and seem to be cut so the movie easily fits a PG rating. I'm kind of amazed this movie was a PG-13 rating rather than a straight PG.

Ritche also mishandles the action set pieces. As with today's modern filmmaking, he lets the editor fast cut his way to generate excitement. The result? Not very exciting since it can get confusing. Then Ritchie uses split screens during a military assault on the villains base. Very difficult to figure out how the attack went and there weren't enough shots of the heroes leading the assault and firing their guns. Let me put it this way. James Bond movies did it better.

But what saves this movie are two things. First, I love this cast. Henry Cavill is suave as Solo. Arnie Hammer gives his Kuryakin a hot headed passion driven by the injustice done to his family by the Soviets. It's his best work since The Social Network. (2010) Elizabeth Debicki steals the movie. She has grace and reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. All three are beautiful and sexy. They're just great to look at.

Then there's the style of the film. Ritchie's movie has just enough color drain to make the movie feel as if it's from the Sixties. The sets, the mannerisms of the actors all feel genuine from the period. And let's not forget the costumes. Wow. Kudos to Joanna Johnston for her clothing designs. It was as if I was looking at Vogue magazine from 1963. The result of all this excellent work is that one feels that they were transported to another time and place.

Elizabeth Debicki and Henry Cavill strike a pose.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a good movie with problems but is carried by its groovy style. It needs more of the U.N.C.L.E vibe to be more fun but perhaps we can look forward to that in a sequel. The grade is B.


Unknown said...

Good move by Henry Cavill. Make other movies to avoid being typecast. Hope he does more.

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