The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I was thinking…

…how movies are about the suspension of disbelief. A well crafted narrative film will trick us into thinking what we are seeing could actually happen or, more often, that the characters we are seeing are actual people and not simply actors playing make-believe.

Every once in a while, even a good actor will pop that bubble in which we suspend and that can, unfortunately, affect the rest of our movie-watching experience. Such was the case with Guy Ritchie’s latest outing, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The culprit at fault was neither the dashing Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), nor was it Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger), but rather the young Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina–click here for a review of the film). The young Swedish actress has better than average chops when it comes to the thespian art, but for some reason her character’s country of origin remained a mystery due to her ever-changing accent.

Met in East Germany in the opening sequence of the film, Vikander’s Abby is supposed to be an East German automobile mechanic. Her father is German, portrayed by a German actor. Her uncle is German, also portrayed by a German. But Vikander’s German accent is not only nowhere to be heard, it is completely supplanted by an ever-changing mix of her native Swedish and American. This has the unfortunate effect of yanking one in and out of the story by reminding us, nearly every time she says a line, that they are indeed just lines on a page and not words spoken by a real person in a real situation.

Meanwhile, Cavill–a British playing an American, and Hammer–an American playing a Russian, (only in the movies, folks), do fine jobs at grasping the necessary inflections and tonal abnormalities of their respective oral/aural challenges. But for some reason the third member of their triumverate–Vikander–is left behind in the vocal realm occupied by “What accent is that?” actors like Christopher Lambert.

Accents aside, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a step above the 1960’s Cold War-era television series for which it was named. We are not waiting very long for the first piece of action as CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) is sent into East Berlin to retrieve Abby and smuggle her over the wall with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) in pursuit.

Shortly thereafter, however, the two spies discover their respective agencies have teamed up, pairing Solo and Kuryakin together to rescue Abby’s kidnapped rocket scientist father from a married aristocratic couple who dabble in the world of black market arms deals and terrorism.

Going undercover, Kuryakin and Abby pose as affianced lovebirds in Rome while he and Solo try to discover the whereabouts of the nuclear device being constructed by the baddies. Putting their history of mistrust behind them, the pair of spies build a professional relationship on mutual grudging respect while Kuryakin begins to fall for the girl under his care.

Wrapped in Guy Ritchie’s dry humor, U.N.C.L.E. keeps a good pace throughout as it romps across 1960’s Europe. The Cold War world created is total and one finds it extremely difficult to remember it was filmed in the 21st century. The music, from Daniel Pemberton’s score to the painstakingly selected period songs, permeate nearly every soundwave of that world.

Not all of the music seems appropriate for each scene, however. There is a particular scene when Solo is enjoying a picnic dinner while Kuryakin is engaged in a chase, and the song on the radio–an Italian romantic ballad–feels completely out of place. One would have thought a lighter, perhaps comedic song would have better emphasized the ludicrousness of the moment.

Ritchie’s world of the 60’s also extends into the use of split screen effects, popular in the television shows of that era. While this is used to logical effect in scenes where little is going on, it is unfortunately also used in moments of heavy action. When presented with too much visual information at once, the viewer is ironically left seeing nothing.

But the rest of the time, the film is laced with eye candy. The clothes, the cars and the overall look of that bygone time is so prevalent without being over-the-top, the story itself is almost icing on a nostalgic cake.

Furthermore, Hammer and Cavill build an interesting and almost touching friendship with their characters, leaving us wanting the film to follow in the serial footsteps of its source material. As the first credit appears, the mind is enticed by the other potential adventures in which these brothers in espionage can delve.

Ammo Dump rating:  7 out of 10 electronic bugs

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com or the “iHeartRadio” app on your smart phone. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Rated PG-13
Run time: 116 minutes

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