The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Spyle Over Substance

Thank god this film wasn’t code-named after my uncle. For some reason, when he was a little one, my brother couldn’t say my uncle’s name so called him Zibby instead. I’m sure it made sense to a 4 year old but The Man from Zibby just sounds ridiculous.

It wasn’t all that many years later when I discovered the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series. I was instantly fascinated by how cool Robert Vaughn was as our American hero; Napoleon Solo. I was also fascinated by how much of a frosty badass David McCallum was as the red threat; Ilya Kuryakin but I had obviously had no conception of any potential geopolitical subtext. It’s been a long time since I saw the TV show so my memories are thus: smooth talking, 60’s cool, spy games and the best character names ever invented.

15 to 20 years later and I’m really happy to be watching a film that is almost exactly how I remember the TV series that I loved as a kid only this time they aren’t battling THRUSH… yes – the original series had a criminal organisation called THRUSH!

Perhaps I remember the series wrong, I was a a kid after all, but I don’t care. I didn’t want or need a higher, more serious, political message from this film. What I wanted was endless cool music, a bit of suave, a few pretty girls, a dose of action, some cheesy innuendos and a splash of spy games. The Man from U.N.C.L.E gives you exactly that.

The main thing that struck me with this film was not the omission of THRUSH – a sensible choice – but instead Henry Cavill who plays Napoleon Solo. Once you get past his perfectly chiseled jaw it’s quite striking how his lines sound like they are dubbed by someone in the 60’s. The patterns of his speech fit both his character and the setting sublimely well but his acting? Not so much.

This is difficult to explain but Cavill looks and talks every bit the spy who doesn’t play by the rules and surprisingly so does Arnie Hammer who plays Ilya Kuryakin. But there is something under the surface of both of them that suggests they are playing the opposite roles. Cavill seems too stiff to be a rebellious spy and Hammer seems to be on the verge of cracking a joke ever 10 minutes countermanding his role as a by the books, dedicated, Russian KGB agent.

That’s only a minor gripe because as soon as the music kicked in at the start of the film I knew I’d enjoy it regardless. The music doesn’t stop being awesome throughout the film and adds to the cool vibes that ooze off the screen. I say ‘adds’ because you can’t overlook the costumes, the cars, the scenery and the script that add to an endlessly stylish film.

OK maybe that last one isn’t a high point. I’m sure many people will find it trite and pathetic but for me it hit the right balance of smooth talking and cheeky banter. There are enough of these quips to keep the whole film light-hearted and fun finding a delicate balance between being friends, enemies and begrudging colleagues.

One of the strangest things about this film though is the editing. There are so many missed beats and awkward sound volumes that at times I found it distracting yet at the same time it adds a layer to the film to make feel uniquely different from a ‘Hollywood film’. Not quite an indie film but not mainstream either. Curious.

With all this in mind it’s inescapable to be sucked in by the style that is washed across the screen from start to finish. Some people may not enjoy the whimsical nature of dialogue but personally I loved it. Perhaps it’s because I’d had a couple of beers before hand, perhaps it’s because it dragged out some nostalgia of my childhood or perhaps it’s because it was the perfect antidote to a truly shit week at work but either way it spoke to me on some level.

Go See

  • Fabulous Soundtrack
  • Style, style and more style
  • It’s fun!

Avoid

  • Strange editing
  • Script won’t please everyone
  • Lead actors seem to be playing the wrong characters – in a way

Overall

4-5-stars

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