Skip to main content

Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

A lot of how you respond to Guy Richie’s stylish take on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” has to do with what you go in expecting. If you’re anticipating the gadgetry of retro Bond, the action adventure of the “Bourne” franchise, the stunts of “Mission: Impossible” and the bromance of Richie’s “Sherlock Holmes” movies, you will not find much of that here. Nor, if you do a little research, will you find much similarity to the 60s TV show from which the movie takes its name. In comparison to the film adaption of “The Lone Ranger” (which coincidentally also starred Armie Hammer), “U.N.C.L.E.” is not even a smidge as inflammatory or insulting to its source material. Contradictory to the catastrophe that was “Lone Ranger”, “U.N.C.L.E.” presents its send-up with a far more celebratory spirit and its infectious energy keeps the movie afloat, even as it hits the choppy waters of some overused gags that grow tired fast.

Set in 1963, the story revolves around rival spies; American CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) as they reluctantly join forces to stop a shadow organization from procuring a nuclear weapon. Crucial to their plan and along for the ride is East Berlin mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander); whose scientist father is being used by the group to create the WMD.
Let the double crosses, questionable allegiances and adversarial repartee begin. On paper, two dueling agents from opposing countries with vastly different approaches to field work should make for a crackling combination. While the two spar, their buddy relationship remains stagnant. They only manage to tolerate each other; never developing the common respect or admiration for each other that other films such as “Shanghai Noon” have terrifically brought to bear. More successfully realized is Alicia Vikander’s Gabby, who is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the central duo’s dynamic and the movie's boys' club atmosphere in a believable way that avoids feeling obligatory. Utilized to much lesser effect is Hugh Grant’s Waverly, a role that ultimately amounts to an estimated five minutes of screen time for the veteran thesp; a greatly disappointing choice.
While subtle in how it goes about it, "U.N.C.L.E." seems to take sides in the old Cold War rivalry. Clues to where its loyalties lie rests with some key plot points. Solo goes from being an upstanding voluntary agent in the TV series to having a movie backstory as a criminal rogue, who was forced into using his powers for US interests. Kuryakin on the other hand is a noble guy working to redeem his family’s name following his parents’ scandalous downfall. His worst attribute is a short temper that doesn’t suffer fools or villains; which isn’t really a bad trait. If “U.N.C.L.E.” is trying to repair the bad blood stirred by “Child 44” it makes a sufficient dent in cleansing the murky waters.
Current “Superman” Henry Cavill gives a mischievously sly and debonair performance as Solo; affecting an American accent that is a dead ringer for the leading man brogue of golden era Hollywood. Co-star Armie Hammer gives his best turn to date, though his screen presence tends to be a mismatch for the material. As the hot blooded Kuryakin, Hammer’s on-screen persona as a good guy is so overwhelming that is doesn’t quite transmit the threatening nature of the character he’s trying to present. Central to the movie is the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin, a bromance for the ages. Sadly, Cavill and Hammer don’t strike a chord as buddies and their chemistry as adversaries doesn’t fare much better. The script keeps both actors so preoccupied playing their roles as separate entities that when it comes time for the two to commingle, nothing complimentary manifests.
Highly impressive is the performance of rising star Alicia Vikander who demonstrates her versatility in a significant departure from her role in “Ex Machina”. Feisty, quirky and with the appropriate air of mystique, Vikander makes an impression as the precocious Gaby. The only minor drawback to her turn is an inconsistent accent that oscillates between German, Swedish and American before falling into a mash-up of the three. Her turn as a whole more than makes up for this small fumble though.
More than paying homage to its namesake, “U.N.C.L.E” is a good-natured tip of the hat to 60s spy movies and the mystery classics of the 50s, with strands of “To Catch a Thief” and “Charade” coming through the most. The direction, cinematography, costuming, music and the cast’s performances never stray far from the vein of its time period. There’s nothing that screams millennium here and that is both a bold choice that pays off with its throwback zing and a slight hindrance to its feeling daring. There’s a constant feeling that we’ve seen all of this before and executed to better effect. 

Advertised as a jam-packed action adventure featuring gentleman spies, the resulting movie is not as clearly decisive on its genre endgame. It tries its hand at humor too much to be considered dramatic and flirts too mightily with camp to be taken seriously. As the creative force behind this effort, Guy Richie delivers a substantially more pulsating and lively adaptation than a lot of other helmers could have. It is sleek and sophisticated, properly posh in all the right places. When it comes to ranking it against the slew of other TV-to-movie adaptations; "U.N.C.L.E." doesn’t land as smoothly as the first “Charlie’s Angels” film, a benchmark for the genre. When it comes to marrying the past with the present, having fun with its namesake and dabbling with the progressive, it still has no equal. Rating: 6.5/10


Popular posts from this blog

Internet Trolls and Critics in the Age of Rotten Tomatoes - A Look at the Critical Response to GOTTI

Hate, intolerance, and cruelty are the most valued currencies in the digital age. Online publications deal in the same eye-catching tabloid headlines that were once exclusive to rags like WEEKLY WORLD NEWS and the NATIONAL ENQUIRER. The monetization of clicks is ruining many forms of journalism and film criticism is just one of them. When organizations can see what headlines are generating revenue its only natural that sensationalism would start to rise. There is no consorted hivemind like conspiracy to destroy certain films but rather internet activity that has boosted a certain type of writer. From the outside, online film critics share quite a bit with their Twitter troll counterparts.

The critical response to John Travolta's passion project Gotti has been less than favorable, in fact, it has been downright abysmal. A project over ten years in the making, Travolta has poured his heart and soul into this venture. And many writers seem to take pleasure in the film's failure.



Depression is often marked by sadness, despair, and hopelessness. The sense that things will not get better is something most of us pass through at different points in our lives. But depression is something more than that. It’s not just a temporary feeling, it’s a debilitating emotional state that you can’t simply pull yourself out of. The angry outbursts, irritability, and frustration that come along with depression can isolate individuals suffering from this condition and push them deeper into their own thoughts. Everyone needs to be heard and sometimes those who can’t express themselves in traditional forms find their voice in art.
Edvard Munch wrestled with agoraphobia and frequently had hallucinations, one of which inspired THE SCREAM, a painting so iconic that even the most casual art enthusiast is familiar with the piece.  Sylvia Plath took a more direct approach with THE BELL JAR and laid out the details of her depression with brutal honesty. Briana Dickerson a white suburba…

THE True Bromance Film Podcast - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Episode 208 - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

We like to keep up with the latest and greatest in the film universe so for this episode we're dialing up Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In a world where superhero films saturate the market, can an animated feature distinguish itself from the pack?


A Fistful of Dollars, The Favourite, Skyscraper, The Meg, RBG, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Searching, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse