Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Gallagher’s Forum

By Jon Gallagher

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (WB, 2015) – Director: Guy Ritchie. Writers: Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram (s/p). Jeff Kleeman, Guy Ritchie, David C. Wilson, & Lionel Wigram (story). Based on the Television Series by Sam Rolfe. Cast: Henry Cavill, Arnie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov, Guy Williams, Marianna Di Martino, Julian Michael Deuster, Andrea Cagliesi, & Riccardo Calvanese. Color, PG-13, 116 minutes.

When I was in grade school, recess was often spent “playing” TV shows. We’d run out on the playground and announce the name of the show we were going to play, then we’d shout out the name of the character we were going to play like we were calling “shotgun” on a road trip.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a TV show at the time and everyone wanted to play Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) because his name was fun to say, and because he was cool (he was a Russian). Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) was also pretty cool and he was the other main character. They worked together for the United Network Command of Law and Enforcement, which was pretty amazing in itself, since the United States was in the middle of the Cold War with Russia.

They were spies and spies were hot, mainly because of James Bond. We played James Bond, too, and we had a whole bunch of double-0 spies on the playground. The trouble was, we were all too young to understand what all this spy business was about. Our whole “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” play consisted of a couple of us running around introducing ourselves to “bad guys,” then either trying to beat them up or shooting them.

Yes, back in the early 60s, they let us bring play guns to school. School administrators and parents alike would absolutely lose their minds if that happened today. But back then, no one broke into schools and shot them up and there were no such thing as gangs in rural west-central Illinois. The only thing we had to worry about, according to my dad, were the “Damn Commies.” If a Damn Commie broke into our school, we’d be sure to recognize him because ... well, because he was a damn commie!!! I’m sure that he would have been accommodating enough to wear a t-shirt or something that said “Damn Commie” on it for our benefit.

Even in those innocent days, toy manufacturers recognized the value of TV and movie tie-ins. There was a boatload of Man From U.N.C.L.E. toys including cameras that turned into guns, pens with invisible or disappearing ink, and briefcases filled with guns and other weaponry that might be needed to fend off Damn Commies. My briefcase, which I begged Santa to bring, could actually fire white bullet-shaped projectiles without even opening the case. It was cool! No one in my family could figure out how to reload those projectiles to get them to fire again, but it was cool while it lasted. I’m sure that my Man From U.N.C.L.E. briefcase lies in repose next to many of my other childhood toys, including a small fortune in comic books and baseball cards, in a landfill somewhere around my hometown.

Enough. We’ve got a movie to get to. I was anxious to see the newest version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when I heard it was being made into a motion picture. Then I heard that Superman (Cavill) and the Lone Ranger (Hammer) would play Solo and Kuryakin respectively, and I rolled my eyes. This couldn’t be good.

The premise of the movie is that an American CIA operative (Cavill) is sent to extract a German woman (Vikander) from East Berlin during the middle of the Cold War. The CIA is interested in her estranged father who worked for Hitler and the Nazis, and they think they can use her to draw him out. The KGB wants to keep her on the Communist side of the Berlin Wall and enlist Ilya to keep Solo from taking her across. The first 20 minutes or so feature these two trying to kill each other and displaying some of their formidable skills.

Solo is successful, but then finds himself teamed with Kuryakin to find the missing scientist. It comes across as a cop-buddy plot with these two hating, yet respecting, each other. There’s only so far you can go with that formula before it’s been done before, and this movie is no exception.

The thing that sets this movie apart is the constant plot twists. Those who insist that a plot be tight and believable might as well stay home. Those of us who are willing to suspend our disbelief for a couple hours and will put up with minor inconsistencies will enjoy the movie. I’ll admit I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I managed to follow along closely enough.

The movie, like the TV show, is done with the tongue planted in the cheek, but not so that it makes it a campy movie. Gadgets aren’t overdone, and the ironic parts will elicit a smile, if not a good chuckle from the audience.

Cavill does a decent job playing Robert Vaughn. He seems to have studied Vaughn’s portrayal of Solo in the original TV series, and he has it down pretty well. The character is one who cannot be flustered (at least outwardly) and comes across as a little cocky. I liked him a lot better in this role than I did as The Man of Steel.

Hammer is very good as Iyla. He maintains a decent Russian accent throughout and allows his facial expressions to convey a good deal of the story, which is always a plus for actors with that ability. He was much better – eons better – than his Lone Ranger character.

Everyone else is okay with no special mentions.

The movie ends and is prime for a sequel. They don’t even tell you what U.N.C.L.E. stands for until the closing credits.

I hope they do make a sequel. I’d go see it. I enjoyed this one enough to give it an A-.

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