Officially a flop, the 2015 Man from UNCLE film by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram remains a very stylish and satisfying cold war adventure. I’m not the only one to think so; it was very popular among audiences. Though, a grim proportion of reviewers found it ‘boring’ and the story unappealing. What do you expect in a time of nonstop action and genocide by Death Star? People get bored easily.
But, I was not bored with the subject of this movie. I was around in 1963, roughly the time this takes place, and it successfully captures many of the things that were exciting about that time. Things like Team Lotus and Grand Prix racing and French beauty Francoise Hardy (below, with a Melania Trump-like wry smile) and the most beautiful Ferraris ever made and cold war intrigue and JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Most of those things aren’t specifically in the movie; it just evokes them. Just saying. And, ok, I just threw that photo of Francoise Hardy up there because I felt like it and also because blogger C.W. Swanson put up a similar photo recently and reminded me of her. But there are kick-ass F1 race cars in the film.
Some critics were actually seduced by the film. James Berardinelli of ReelViews called it “one of those rare instances when a sequel wouldn’t just be warranted – it would be welcomed.” I concur. The words ‘stylish’ and ‘skillful’ come up a lot.
Because this is a micro-review, I won’t describe the plot, but there is some very good location shooting in and around Rome, Italy, and around the UK. The cinematography is quite good, and the stylishness of certain scenes is worth the price of the BlueRay disk. In particular, a boat race around the Vinciguerra estate near Rome involves a mesmerizing scene set to music where Napolean Solo finds himself sitting in a truck, eating another man’s lunch and drinking his Ruffino Chianti while trying to decide whether to save the Red Peril (Armie Hammer) from drowning. There is also an enormously creative Nazi torture scene that succeeds in being both sickening and hilarious. Not at the same time; in sequence.
The only drawback for me was the odd casting decision to concentrate all the talent and beauty on the male side of the cast list. Three of the most god-like and fittest actors on the planet (Henry Cavil – literally Superman, Armie Hammer and Luca Calvani) were cast alongside Swedish actress Alicia Vickander as UNCLE teammate and Elizabeth Debicki as villainess.
The ladies do a wonderful job – too good, actually. Though a beautiful young actress in her 20s, Debicki performs so well as an aging and glamorous mafiosa, she comes across as too repulsive to lust after. And, though it’s clear they were trying to go for a Jean Shrimpton style of 60s cute girl chic with Vikander, she broods through the whole thing and ends up more like a little sister than a “Bond Girl.” The result is that there is no real leading lady character in a movie that desperately needs the glamour of a strong leading lady to counterbalance the pretty boys in it. Otherwise, though, this film will help a few glasses of Johnny Walker Black disappear very smoothly and stylishly.