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The Man From UNCLE - DVD Review

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

GUY Ritchie’s take on 60s TV favourite The Man From UNCLE may represent a victory for style over substance but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment factor.

Just as he did with his Sherlock Holmes movies, Ritchie has put together a romp; a slickly executed, hyper stylish mix of action and comedy that seduces by virtue of its visual appeal.

The Man From UNCLE therefore boasts highly attractive leads (both male and female), exotic locations, high fashion, and a cool soundtrack (mixing Morricone with Holmes). What’s not to enjoy?

The plot may be light, in terms of being an origins story, but there’s enough intrigue to keep you enthralled. It exists to set up a new franchise, showing how debonair thief turned CIA specialist Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is forced to team up with no-nonsense KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) at the height of the Cold War to thwart a nuclear threat that could bring about the end of the world.

Helping them is the attractive Gaby (Alicia Vikander), who has familial links to one of the men building the bomb, while standing in their path is a playboy racer (Luca Calvani) and his scheming wife, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).

In truth, the plot here is perfunctory and requires no former knowledge of the series. It owes more to tried and tested spy genre dynamics (especially Bond) as well as classic 60s cinema troupes from films like The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job. There’s even the obligatory race against time to stop the bomb.

Where The Man From UNCLE succeeds, however, is in fusing Ritchie’s undoubted eye for style with the retro elements he is clearly seeking to pay homage too. Hence, the film looks right for the era it exists in, while incorporating Ritchie’s previous penchant for slick but hard hitting action and ultra cool soundtrack enhanced set pieces.

The leads are good too. Cavill is as charming as he is clinical and very good at dry, deadpan delivery; Hammer is the likeable straight man with muscle and endears despite being limited in terms of his material; Vikander is suitably sultry and spiky and an appealing presence, while there’s eye-catching (if under-used) support from Hugh Grant as a possible ally and Debicki as the sinister villainess.

The attractive use of location, especially Rome and its surrounding area, also enhances the visual appeal of a film not wanting for glamour.

There are flaws. Just occasionally, the mix of tones grates, especially during an extended torture sequence that tosses in unnecessary Holocaust references, while the film never really enables you to get to know the characters properly – hence, Cavill sometimes comes across as too cool and distanced for his own good, Hammer sometimes feels straight-jacketed by the straight-man dynamic, and Debicki’s villain deserves a great deal more screen-time to truly make her presence felt.

As a result, The Man From UNCLE struggles to hit the heights of more fully developed recent spy fare such as Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman or even “X-Men: First Class”/Film-Review/x-men-first-class-review. It’s only in these areas, however, that the film is really found wanting.

In most other respects, The Man From UNCLE provides solid, crowd-pleasing entertainment that excites and amuses in equal measure. It certainly deserves a sequel.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 116mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: December 7, 2015