The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

It works as a buddy-spy film; the chemistry of the leads with Ritchie-ness is good. Alas, only if it had a half-decent plot.

As with any genre in Hollywood that becomes short-term popular, new movies usually try to capitalize on it with a unique approach. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., another movie in the crowding spy genre, partially succeeds owing a great deal to its two leading men and a remarkably restrained Guy Ritchie. But it gets caught out by a plot that is as unimaginative as one can imagine.

The 1960s Cold War era backdrop is clearly established with an impressive opening sequence set around the Berlin Wall. A criminal organization intends to build a nuclear bomb for the usual nefarious reasons, and therefore must be stopped. It falls upon the CIA and KGB to work together to thwart said evil plan. Assigned to “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement”, or “U.N.C.L.E.”, American spy Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian spy Illya (Armie Hammer) must put their initial hate for each other aside to buddy up, and dress chic, to save the world (until the sequel)!

Fortunately for the movie, its director brings enough of his trademark style and pizzazz to make the 60s more attractive than the decade has a right to be. The Ritchie-ness in U.N.C.L.E. isn’t on overdrive the way it usually is in the director’s British movies and or even his abysmal Sherlock Holmes remixes. While Ritchie is co-credited with story, there is little to assume he (or anyone) had any serious involvement in it. On the plus side, he is also co-credited with the screenplay that takes full advantage of the two charismatic leading men sharing wonderful chemistry. That is where the movie’s unique approach comes in: this is a buddy-spy film that is at its entertaining best when the “boys” are having a go at each other, reminiscent of the bromances that Ritchie depicts so well in all his films, right from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Henry Cavill sheds his Superman baggage early in the film, owing to his tailored suit, gait and an accent to flaunt. Confident and suave, he plays the smooth-talking playboy to Armie Hammer’s intimidating introvert. Alicia Vikander brings the feminine glamour as a German car mechanic integral to the boys’ plans, and is also U.N.C.L.E.’s human element in establishing the era through her costumes. But unremarkable villains carrying out a lazy plan results in a lopsided narrative. The film also employs too-many flashbacks: it can get dreary when every other event is explained from a different perspective 5 minutes after it takes place!

Clearly the movie does not aim high, nevertheless it maintains a balance between thrilling action scenes and humour while letting the actors seduce the audience, in what is eventually a style-over-substance film. The marketing of the movie gets this spot-on, setting the expectations right and therefore making it difficult to be disappointed by the film. Yet, in a year that has already given us Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, with OO7’s Spectre yet to come, U.N.C.L.E. is enough of a fun spy film to keep you entertained but with little to be remembered for.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.