DM Haight

 

If you’re going to make a spy movie, you might consider a few options–there’s the camp route (ala 60’s Bond), there’s the parody route (Mister Powers), and then there’s the gritty route (Jason Bourne). We see a lot of these three options in our cinemas most years, some are okay, most are bad. But what happens when Guy Ritchie gets his hands on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a feat that transcends the three options above, and becomes an option all its own.

Ritchie brings to our cinemas a newly revised version of the Hollywood spy drama. How? you may ask: by making it funny. U.N.C.L.E. is by no means a parody of the genre, but it takes itself only as seriously as it needs to. Instead of an Austin Powers we end up with an action-heavy, stylish, sexy, period piece detailing the dangerous partnership of a former art thief and a no-B.S. soviet juggernaut. High tension and high stakes surround the fragile partnership where two spies from warring countries try and outdo one another in combat and suave. Guy Ritchie brings new life to a genre we had all but dismissed as action fodder. The fight scenes are readable and easy to follow, exploiting far less of the shaky cam and quick cuts we experience with the 007 and Bourne franchises. Instead of going for intensity, we get storytelling. In U.N.C.L.E. the sacrifice of narrative for spectacle is not felt. Every move has a purpose, and every line leads to either a laugh or plot progression.

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill play the Soviet and American spies respectively. After this outing Hammer should be up for a number serious action roles, and Cavill, if not for his station as the Man of Steel, should be considered for the replacement of Craig as 007. Cavill especially broke the stoic visage we associate with his comic book persona, coming out as a riveting actor, who can easily transition from action to comedy, all while maintaining an air of debonair smoothness. Hammer’s portrayal of the Ruskie is as warm as his country is cold. Without breaking into camp, Hammer reigns in a performance that could have gotten the best of a lesser actor. Without slipping into cliche, we watch as a hardened assassin warms up to the idea of partnerships, both professional and romantic. Alicia Vikander, coming hot off the acclaim of Ex Machina, plays Gaby Teller, the German mechanic who happens to be the pin holding two warring countries together. She’s smarter than you, she knows it, she knows you know it, and she doesn’t care. For once we see a character we first believe will be carried around for the whole film, but instead smile as she runs circles around the two top spies. Without missing a beat, Teller slips out of android territory and into the Femme Fatale we’ve been waiting for.

Costuming is key for this film as well. Not only is the film making stylish, but the costume department has brought back the 60’s glamour for modern audiences. Joanna Johnston does a brilliant job of keeping us grounded in 1963. The Jackie Kennedy look is on point, and the sleek suits Cavill dons are perfect. No one is left in the cold and everyone looks stunning.

U.N.C.L.E. is a perfectly paced, well-told, action thriller with spats of real comedy and believable romance.  It’s by no means a perfect film, but we don’t get this kind of treatment everyday. If Guy Ritchie and the gang want to get the band back together for a sequel, I doubt the audience would pass up the chance to revisit these characters. After all, we still have an entire cold war to get through; we’re not even in space yet.

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