James Bond isn’t the only spy in town these days. In fact, if you are tired of Agent 007, how about bringing American art thief-turned-CIA operative Napoleon Solo home in The Man from U.N.C.L.E instead? The film was adapted for the big screen from the small one. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an NBC series running from 1964 to 1968, and the premise was simple. Secret agents working for a secret agency trying to save the world.
U.N.C.L.E. is an acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement and although Ian Fleming gets no credit here, you would recognize his hand and influence in it. For the original TV series, he contributed to the concepts and came up with the character Napoleon Solo, not to be confused with Han Solo of Star Wars fame.
In this film, Solo, played by the dashing Henry Cavill, is teamed up with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin, played by Arnie Hammer with a decent Russian affectation. There is animosity and distrust between the two, and they are forced to work together as a team, but they are highly skilled and competent, and do as their bosses have told them (for the most part anyway). A little known fact about the production of the film: Henry Cavill was not the first choice to play Solo. He wasn’t even second choice. It was only when they didn’t get George Clooney or Tom Cruise that he was cast.
It is the height of the Cold War and the balance of power is threatened between their two countries by a cryptic organization with nuclear weapons. To help in their mission, they enlist the beautiful Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing German scientist they believe is involved. Hugh Grant has the smallest part in a movie I have ever seen him in and is almost unrecognizable in his geeky (but probably right for the time period) hair cut and glasses.
Guy Ritchie directed the movie and we know how much he likes to think outside the box. This film is no different. He’s got some great chase scenes involving cars and boats and a very cool recreational vehicle. He has thrown in some humor for good measure: watch out for the pliers and laser cutting scene. He also has stunning cinematography. The set designs are great. Italy’s hotel rooms and lobbies have never looked so good. The fashions are gorgeous, and so retro. A great soundtrack reminiscent of that time period will keep you happy.
You do need to like spoofs for this film, because you have to check your disbelief system at the door. When faced with an army of men armed with weapons, the two come out unscathed. Not even one single bullet grazes a body part. And I have one question: after a car chase and a roll down an embankment, how was no one hurt and where did all that rain come from?
Ritchie employs the split screen technique a lot (he is known for it), but he also flips back and forth between two scenes, which I felt it was quite disconcerting. He also likes to replay scenes over again to introduce what he didn’t show the first time around, and I found this distracting. I prefer something more straightforward and chronological. But I have to say that I would watch the movie again just for character Gaby’s earrings and sunglasses. Fabulous darling, just fabulous.
The film comes with special features that include The Guys from U.N.C.L.E.: A partmaking of, part-travelogue, all-attitude look behind the curtain; Spyvision: Recreating the ’60s Cool, A Higher Class of Hero and more.