I’m calling U.N.C.L.E.

Spy-film combines modern style with ’60s class


Photo illustration by Leah Crenshaw and Rachel Lewis

Story by Leah Crenshaw, Viewpoint editor

Walking into the near empty theater–soda in one hand, popcorn in the other–I did not expect to like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I try not to fall for every single movie the way I did in my errant youth (back then anything on a big screen was a masterpiece to me). But I did. I fell hard.

The film follows two spies, one a CIA agent named Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and one a KGB agent named Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), as they are forced to work together along with a feisty, German auto mechanic named Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). The three of them must stop an Italian mastermind (Elizabeth Debicki) from selling the most dangerous nuclear bomb ever to some nefarious organization. The film is directed by Guy Ritchie, and is set in the early ‘60s with filmography, music and costuming to match.

The writing of the film was better than expected. On the smaller scale, there were a few moments when things got a little too convenient to be believable. (How do random cars always magically have the keys in them?) To make up for this phenomenon, however, there were several delightfully witty bits of dialogue to which the audience couldn’t help but smile. (“For a special agent, you’re not having a very special day, are you?”) On the larger scale, the parallels between Solo and Kuryakin, the CIA and the KGB, the USA and the USSR were clear and masterfully done. Each side had an equal number of “wins” and “losses” in their rivalries, which surprised me given Hollywood’s tendency to demonize “those Commie Soviets”.

As far as the acting, the cast members all did their jobs well. Hammer’s Russian accent was downright adorable, and he portrayed the surprising depth of his character quite well. Cavill’s portrayal of the classic suave, good ol’ boy spy was believable, if a bit unlikeable. Vikander didn’t portray quite a lot of growth, but instead her character remained an enigma, which was equally interesting. On the more villainous side of things, Debicki did a fantastic job. She made a cold, calculating killer, and watching her onscreen was a genuine pleasure.

In addition to quality writing and acting, the film was technically pleasing. Several camera shots added to the parallel of Solo and Kuryakin by framing them in the picture symmetrically. Several montages also reinforced the early ‘60s setting with classic split-frame techniques from the era. Certain visual cues (a red light, a split-screen rejoining) added subtle details to the film’s plot progression. One particular view of a car jammed between two buildings stood out as exceptional.

The costuming was downright stunning, and by far the most noticeably exquisite aspect of the film. Costume designer Joanna Johnston found the ideal pieces to convey the time period while still remaining accessible and appealing to modern audiences. Any item worn in the film could also hold its own at a modern event. The hair and makeup crews also did their jobs well, clearly using Debicki and Vikander to display their favorite styles from the era.

The soundtrack of the film is well worth exploring. (It can be found on Amazon, iTunes and Soundcloud.) The opening music sets the light, action/spy mood perfectly. It featured several uniques sounds, from falsetto mens’ vocals to flute beatboxing and much more. Another attribute of the sound editing was the repetition of a marching, angry drumbeat whenever Kuryakin had an anger episode. In each instance, all sound except the marching would fade away, matching what the character heard. Every single sound served to advance the mood or plot of the film.

All in all, Ritchie created a fairly good film. Obviously, it is no Shawshank Redemption or Citizen Kane, but for someone looking to see a lighthearted spy flick, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a quality choice. The writing is witty, the film (and Hammer) is pretty, and there’s not much more I need to say about it. If you happen to have three free hours, I strongly recommend spending them with this film. It’s downright fun.