Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Film: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant
Director: Guy Ritchie
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

The films of Guy Ritchie have never been particularly within my wheelhouse.  I feel there might be some jokes that I am missing amidst the supremely British humor.  Yet, I can see their charms-Ritchie is most frequently focused on entertaining us rather than creating a larger message or brand, and that is clearly on-display in The Man from UNCLE, the long-gestating big-screen adaptation of the hit 1960's TV show.  The film, amidst a summer bereft of originality and new ideas (this has been the summer of the uninspired sequel/remake, hasn't it?), this is actually a reinvention that I can get behind.  Though the film is not without its faults, the movie itself is too much fun and the actors in the leads are too game (perhaps because the two male leads desperately need a hit) to not be enjoyable.  The film appears likely to be a box office bust, but it doesn't really deserve that title, as you should make a point to catch the film.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Napoleon Solo (Cavill), a suave American spy who is forced by his government to team up with a Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) to help stop an attempt by a Nazi villainous Victoria Vinciguerra (Debicki) to gain access to a nuclear warhead.  Set during the height of the Cold War, the two have a reason to be butting heads (the night before they teamed up, their assignment was basically to kill each other), but with the daughter of a scientist named Gabby (Vikander), they set off on a mad dash to stop the bomb from getting to the Nazis, all-the-while frequently sabotaging each other and finding disagreements along the way.

Caper films are toward the very top of my list of favorite film genres, so I knew I'd have a partiality to this film before I even got in, but what made me love it so was the way that they approached the humor.  Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are not great actors, and they might not even be good ones at this point (Hammer is almost certain to end up in a TV show after this considering that he tanked in both this movie and The Lone Ranger, killing two franchises though neither was remotely as bad as the critics have called, and couldn't get much prestige traction for J. Edgar), but Ritchie may be the first person to get some of their charms.  The reality is that both men are almost unnaturally good-looking; I was sitting between two women during the film, and both stated "oh my" at least twice for each of them while they were onscreen and I echoed the sentiments.  Rather than ignore this fact, Ritchie exploits it for comic effect, frequently having the two of them flirting with not just every woman onscreen, but even with each other (particularly Cavill with Hammer), causing sexual tension all-over-the-place.  The result of this is a film that actually mocks the hyper-sexualization of spy films and that shows a bit of grace when it comes to the characters, many of whose motives are hard to pin down.

It's these little touches that make up for the film's second half, which frequently feels rushed and a little convenient.  Elizabeth Debicki's Victoria is the highlight of the film (the villains always are), but while she can command the screen with unabashed movie star moxie, I felt like her story was a bit too thin.  I'm not asking for 3-dimensional here (that's not really the appeal), but perhaps more screen time.  Her funniest bit was balancing her clear attraction to Napoleon with her clear need to be in control and carry out evil, but that's relegated to only a handful of scenes.  Still, I would have liked to have seen more from her and more interplay between all of the characters.  Sadly, I'm guessing that I won't get much time with them again since this is pretty much begging for a sequel and it doesn't have the gross of a movie that will get one.  But kudos to all of the leads, including Alicia Vikander who may just deserve an Oscar by acclamation this year considering this is the third film of the year she bewitched me onscreen.

It has to be said before I go that the costume work in this film is outstanding.  Joanna Johnston finally won herself a nomination three years ago after years of somehow missing for major films (she frequently works with Steven Spielberg, and yet with Munich, Saving Private Ryan, and Forrest Gump she had never nailed down a nomination until Lincoln), but this is easily the best of her career.  The women's costumes feel plucked straight out of the closets of Twiggy and Catherine Deneuve, all mod wonder and crazily sexy elegance, while the men are dapper, but with a heightened sexuality; Johnston isn't afraid to make you stare at Henry Cavill's thighs or Armie Hammer's impossibly blue eyes. All-in-all, it's the sort of work that should be nominated for an Oscar, and for a branch that has not been afraid to nominate film flops like Anonymous, W.E., The Tempest, and The Affair of the Necklace in the past, I hope they continue that trend and give it the nomination.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Were you with me that this was a fun romp late in the summer, or did you share the opinion of my aunt that it was "too slow?"  While Alicia Vikander's movie star seems firmly set, where do you see the careers of Cavill, Hammer, and Debicki going after this?  And who else thinks that Joanna Johnston should (or will) gain a nomination at year's end?  Sound off in the comments!

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