You probably already know whether or not you give a rip about seeing the period spy thriller The Man From U.N.C.L.E. For negheads inclined to sit out the movie — you know, you guys who won’t give the movie a break because neither of the previously-announced directors, Steven Soderbergh or Quentin Tarantino, got to make their planned-and-abandoned versions — just know that Guy Ritchie took the reins with high style.
Superman Henry Cavill plays suave, glib ‘60s era CIA agent Napoleon Solo and Lone Ranger Armie Hammer is his rival/partner, an antagonistic, no nonsense KGB operative named Illya Kuryakin. Both are just fine, even if theirs is a long way down from such classic pairings as, say, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, or John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. Sure, you may keep hoping Cavill will bust out some of that old time Connery snap, snarl, and crackle but the best you can hope for here is early Pierce Brosnan with a side of David Niven — which is still pretty solid, by the way.
Ritchie has also cast two smart, dangerous, standup beauties straight out of classic Bond movies, Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) as a mega-rich, sexually predatory, Nazi-loving Italian countess and jet-setter, and Alicia Vikander (the stunner from Ex Machina) as an East Berliner whose father has been captured by Nazis trying to force him to build a nuclear device. They weren’t given the most complex roles but both Debicki and Vikander deliver with charm and delight, anyway.
The classy, muted movie — scripted by Ritchie, Lionel Wigram (who also produced) and Jeff Kleeman — offers cool smaller stuff for sarcastic smoothies like Jared Harris and Hugh Grant. It’s also got lots of things that we don’t get nearly enough of any more in movies. Taking its cues (although not much else) from the cloak and dagger hit TV series of the ‘60s, the movie sports a jazzy retro music score by Daniel Pemberton and is shot through with cheeky, irreverent wit). The whole affair is dotted with action chases in flashy cars and boats, it globe-hops from England to Italy with a lot of flair, and it’s full of well-dressed, attractive people who are anything but painful to look at. You want a killer, cutting edge, thoroughly modern The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? This isn’t it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t bloody good fun.