August 14, 2015

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

So, what do you remember about your
parents before their planet exploded?

Grade: B –
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Debicki
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Several years ago, Quentin Tarantino said he was extended, but turned down, several offers to direct a film version of the 1960s television show “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” In a way, he finally got his chance.

Guy Ritchie, one of the most notably post-Pulp Fiction-inspired auteurs, applies his Tarantino panache to the U.N.C.L.E. spy thriller adaptation, finally in theaters after over 20 years in development hell. Slick and ultra stylish, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s narrative nonetheless lacks a certain I-don’t-know-what. Watching the film is rather like admiring an exotic sports car with sleek lines and luxury features, only to discover a straight-twin engine under the hood.

Set in the early 1960s, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill, well, Superman), a former WWII profiteer turned CIA agent, and sullen KGB lackey Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, once cast as Batman in George Miller’s aborted Justice League film project) are Cold War adversaries forced to join forces to track down an International Criminal Organization™ dabbling in stolen gold and loose nukes. The scoundrels have kidnapped a German nuclear scientist, whose daughter, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), is the key to locating him and THE BOMB.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a gorgeous film, with Ritchie’s sublime camerawork and kinetic editing bound by an eclectic soundtrack that borrows from Roberta Flack, Ennio Morricone, Nina Simone, Rita Pavone and many others. It’s “Mad Men” meets a “Vogue” magazine cover, with Vikander—having quite the breakout year—and Elizabeth Debicki, as a baubled and bangled baddie named Victoria, ably serving as sassy fashion plates.

While the actors are well-cast (save for Hammer and his Ruskie accent), the quippy script is droll without much sense of urgency. Although the world’s fate supposedly lies in the balance, Solo and Kuryakin quibble over whether you can accessorize a Paco Rabanne belt with a Tapu. There are several striking sequences: set to a Peppino Gagliardi ballata, Solo sits in a truck and sips Ruffino while a motorboat chase carries on in the background; a torture scene overseen by a Mengele-esque madman; the Dutch angles of Victoria lying atop a couch parallel to a prone, drugged Solo.

But if there’s such a thing as excessive cool. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has it. Speedboats, race cars, Italian playboys, three-piece suits, Hugh Grant … it’s all there. What’s not there are genuine emotions and engaging action, from a confusingly edited backroads buggy chase to a mundane, detached climax. It’s a film to luxuriate over—like visiting an art gallery, you’ll enjoy much of what you see, but you won’t really feel like going back.

No comments: