Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

I truly believe that I am the tipping point when it comes to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. That my generation – the thirty-something’s – are the point where this movie loses its audience. I have never seen an episode of the original TV series, in fact, I can’t outline it’s plot, name any characters or even when it was set (I would have been a decade out, assuming it was in 1970’s) but I have heard of it. It’s a name that means something to me even if, as said, I know no details, but I’m not sure you can say that for those younger than me.

And I think that’s going to be a huge problem for Guy Ritchie’s latest film. I caught the trailer before Southpaw and while I thought it looked fairly interesting, didn’t really give it a second glance until it announced, at the end, its title and then the brand gave it provenance. Forgiving all previous thoughts and generating the interest needed to draw me in. But that created the problem, the trailer doesn’t give you enough, it doesn’t tell you what to expect.

Michael Caine - The Ipcress File

In my head, I truly didn’t know whether this was going to be a serious spy thriller borrowing from the likes of Bond or Bourne, or whether this would pull more inspiration from the comic spoof side of the genre and like I said, I’d switched off so much during the trailer until the title grabbed my attention that, while I’ve never blogged about it, if you’d pushed me for a prediction, I would have probably aimed, for something around The Ipcress File. But like most uneducated guesses, I was wrong.

I have no idea whether this film is meant to be serious or not? The tone it creates is just so confusing and meandering that I’m still unsure as to what the film was meant to be even now I’ve seen it. There are times when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. descends into silly slapstick comedy and double entendre that raises a chuckle but these moments are padded out with an attempt to tell a serious narrative. It tries to tell you how dangerous and important everything is while desperately forcing itself not to burst into fits of immature giggles and I just sat there feeling uneasy towards it as a result.

While the tone may meant that I never relaxed into the film, I also never lost myself into the story either because that is equally confusing. There are just too many nationalities at play. There are American’s, Russian’s, German’s, Brit’s, and a lot of background Italian’s. All charging South through Europe. It’s too many ingredients combining to create a mess, which you fix in your head by ignoring everything and simply lowering it down to a film of “Good” versus “Evil” and therefore, losing any real depth to the story.

Alica Vikander, Armie Hammer & Henry Cavill - The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

This over simplification, this ignorance on accents highlights my biggest problem with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. though, it’s cast. Revolving around Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander, we’re presented with a Brit playing an American, an American playing a Russian and a Swede playing a German. It’s all just too much. Too fake. Hammer comes across OK, his accent isn’t cheesy Russian and his character is likeable simply because he is presented as the underdog of the trio so you side for him through slight pity. I did, however, spend huge parts of the film thinking that he looked and acted just a little bit too much like Ryan Gosling in Drive to ever fully believe in him. Vikander sits one rung below Hammer and while her character is fun and bubbly and has a dance sequence that is the only time the film gained a bit of clarity, hinting that it may have some warmth hidden deep, deep inside but too often her accent would waiver and her character felt superfluous to the story, almost shoe horned in to balance the testosterone and nothing more.

I truly detest Cavill though. I understand his character is meant to be the smug, arrogant “brains” to Hammer’s simpleton “brawn” but he takes pretentious pomp so far that he destroys the tone of every seen he’s in. And even if you look past the design of his character, his performance felt so fake and forced that it cannot be real. His accent being case in point, it’s so obviously put on that it actually seems detached from his face. You cannot buy into him, he looks starched and ridged, never looks comfortable in the part. Honestly, I never felt like he looked like he wanted to be there or believes in the project. There is no chemistry between him and anyone else and the only moment the film gives him a chance to look grounded and normal it snatches it away by ending the action sequence so preposterously that I just wanted to sigh and groan “really?”.

Guy Ritchie Director) - The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The only character that seems to fit the tone, style and bumbling meander of the film’s plot is Hugh Grant. He is dropped in and out in nothing more than elongated cameos but I completely bought into him. He fits. He works. And that says a lot. When Hugh Grant, doing standard Hugh Grant is the best fit to a film you know the rest isn’t really working out. There can, however, be no argument as to who the director is. This feels like a Guy Ritchie film. It has his fingerprints all over it with the way he brings it to life and the editing styles he uses. It certainly isn’t his earlier work, it’s not gritty and rough, you can’t connect it Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but it has all the style over substance visual attraction that instantly brought back into my mind his two Sherlock Holmes films. But without the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. to hold it together.

I truly had a blank canvas and an open mind when it came to The Man From U.N.C.L.E but there are just so many individualised and confused elements to say I like it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it, it’s not slow and while it’s not really engrossing, it did keep me entertained. Being just light enough to survive it’s problems. My issue all stems from the lack of severity in how I perceive it. I can just find a better film whatever inflection I take. If I wanted slapstick, spoof or nineteen-sixties I have Austin Powers, if I want comedy spy I have Kingsman and if I want serious I have Bourne and Bond. As I left the cinema the loudest thought in my head was simply “it’d make a better TV series”.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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