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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2015 -- Stylish, Witty, Retro Fun

Guy Ritchie's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is a fun, retro romp. It's a 1960s-style spy movie. The spies in this film are witty, smart, and impeccably dressed. Henry Cavill, as Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer, as Illya Kuryakin, are stunningly handsome men. I couldn’t help, while watching this film, but compare them to the kind of schlubs who populate Jud Apatow movies.

TMFU's emphasis is retro style. From tiny, miserable East German apartments that are onscreen for only seconds, to the large, chunky, sixties jewelry, everything onscreen is beautifully put together.

For a film with so much style, there's heart, too. Illya Kuryakin really moved me. He has a tragic backstory. His father was exiled to a Siberian Gulag and his mother also misbehaved. Illya is huge and strong like bull. He's a stereotype of the superhuman Soviet man Americans had to confront during Cold-War-Era Olympics. He has trouble controlling his anger and his strength. When he's about to blow, the soundtrack plays marching sounds. It's effective.

 Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo is the more cool and suave of the two. There's a breathtaking set piece where Solo confronts tragic disaster by calmly sampling, and then abandoning, a fortuitously discovered sandwich and bottle of wine.

The plot is pretty conventional. Udo, a scientist from Nazi Germany (Christian Berkel, who played the "the Good German" – an ethical doctor – in "Downfall") has been recruited to make a nuclear bomb for some Italian fascist bad guys, the Vinciguerra family. His evil brother Rudi (Sylvester Groth) has also been recruited by the bad guys. Rudi was a torturing fiend under the Nazis. There is a torture scene and the movie licks its chops building suspense, leading the viewer to believe that there is going to be a really cruel, squirm-inducing scene served up, but the film surprises you. In general the film is much smarter, and much less violent, than many films of this genre, and I liked that a lot.

The final action sequence is played to dramatic percussion. Overall the sound and music in the film are very effective.

Elizabeth Debicki is icy and evil as Victoria Vinciguerra.

I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. I liked its intelligence and style and I liked looking at two gorgeous male leads. TMFU has not done well at the box office. That's too bad. I think this movie may just be too stylish, too grown-up, for today's action audience.

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