Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. tells the rivalry between spies from the U.S., Napoleon Solo, and the U.S.S.R., Illya Kuryakin. This movie is based on the 1960s American television series of the same name. Set in 1960s Europe just after the rise of the Berlin Wall, the two opposites are brought together to defeat an evil couple that wants to destroy the world. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
The opening scene shows Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) navigating through the dark streets of East Berlin to come across Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), an auto mechanic whose father was thought to have worked for Hitler. However, he defected as the Second World War ended to the Americans’ side. It is revealed soon after the opening scene that the respective American and Russian spies were ordered to kill each other. Thus Gaby’s life is put in danger and complies successfully with Solo’s orders.
It is believed that Gaby’s uncle Rudi works for the Vinciguerras, a pair of Nazi sympathizers who intend to use Gaby’s father to make a nuclear missile. When news of this hits the CIA and the KGB, they both tell their spies to team up to stop their evil deed. In order to get to her father, Kuryakin (Arnie Hammer) pretends to be an architect engaged to Gaby while Solo disguises himself as an antique dealer specializing in Greek and Roman art: an homage to his early days of thieving.
They take to Rome where the Vinciguerras host a racing event and find out even more intel about the construction of the missile, their whereabouts, and intents. From there, the trio follows them to thwart the Vinciguerras’ efforts through a series of espionages and battles of wits over nerves.
As a lover of spy movies and novels, I felt Ritchie’s attempt at recreating Cold War-era adventures for the big screen could have mixed interpretations.
It was a nice, campy comedy taking a stab ‘60s spy stories. If you are looking for something with a well thought out plot, then this doesn’t exactly fulfill that. It is very reminiscent of many spy TV series that aired in the ‘60s, in the sense that one would not watch it solely for the plot and development, but rather the set, the characters, and the humorous interactions between them.
One thing that I did admire was the striking contrast between Solo’s brain and Kuryakin’s brawn. The way we are introduced to Solo places him in Gaby’s car, calmly guiding her through a car chase down the streets of East Berlin and up to the Wall.
At the same time, we first see Kuryakin chasing down Solo, attributing to his image of strength and aggression. Throughout the movie they both use their best abilities and form a dynamic duo. I was pleasantly surprised at Gaby’s role in all this, given her circumstances and how these three were brought together. (Major spoiler alert: It is revealed that Gaby is actually an undercover spy for the MI6 and brought the CIA and KGB spies to join forces for the common cause)
I find that Guy Ritchie focuses on the set and style in his movies, and it is well appreciated for a piece like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he directed other films such as Snatch and the current Sherlock Holmes movies (fun fact: Jared Harris, who plays Saunders in this film, also played Professor James Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows!)
He flawlessly recreates the mod culture and style that swept throughout Europe in the ‘60s. For example, we see Gaby move from communist Berlin to Rome, and her style transforms accordingly. He definitely doesn’t skimp on the fashion of the characters, their accessories, and the overall atmosphere. Even though the plot isn’t very clear, I found that the one thing that stuck with me throughout the film was Napoleon and Kuryakin’s sole mission to kill each other. It is definitely shown in the interactions between the two.
Bottom line: If you are looking for something with a substantial plot, then this probably is not for you. If you want a fun way to pass two hours and watch two men bicker about fashion and style, then please watch The Man from U.N.C.L.E. One thing is for certain, you won’t be crying “uncle” out of boredom.