Elegantly and stylishly made by director Guy Ritchie, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” is nothing less than an effervescent cocktail of a spy thriller with a faint romance triangle thrown in.
Set in the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the film is based on an American television series of the same name. It is essentially an origins story about the top-secret organisation with the acronym U.N.C.L.E., which was launched in response to a worldwide nuclear threat from a mysterious international criminal collective.
The narration revolves around a professional thief-turned-CIA agent, Napoleon Solo and a Soviet KGB operative Illya Kuryakin. The duo team up on a joint mission to stop the criminal organisation, from destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the production of nuclear weapons and technology.
The film begins with Solo helping a German car mechanic, Gabriella aka Gaby Teller, the daughter of an alleged Nazi scientist turned US collaborator, to escape from East Germany while evading Kuryakin.
Solo later reports to his superior, Saunders, who informs him that the scientist is missing. And the only way he can get to him is through Teller’s uncle Rudi, who works in a shipping company owned by Alexander and Victoria Vinciguerra, a wealthy couple of Nazi sympathies. They intend to use Teller’s father to build their own private nuclear weapons.
So the two ancillary superspies are ordered to put their longstanding hostility aside and race against time to find the scientist in order to prevent a worldwide catastrophe, but not before being secretly assigned to steal the weapon’s schematics for their respective governments.
The action-packed plot crammed with crossing and double-crossing is exciting and keeps you hooked. The screenplay by Ritchie and producer Lionel Wigram features some snappy one-liners and amusing sight gags. Yet it never establishes sufficient tension because it lacks a menacing villain and a rich socio-political fabric that a Cold War period saga may warrant.
Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer who essay the roles of Solo and Kuryakin are charismatic. They have an easy going chemistry. With sharply amusing dialogues they play their game of one-upmanship with flair and panache.
Alicia Vikander shines as Gabriella Teller or Gaby, the feisty German girl who is out in search of her father. She shares some brilliant screen time with both the spies, as she is forced to pose as the fiancee of Kuryakin, who is now going undercover, as an architect.
The other ace actors like Jared Harris as Saunders, Hugh Grant as Waverly, a high ranking MI6 operative, Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani as Victoria and Alexander Vinciguerra are wasted with nothing much to do.
With excellent production values, the film showcases plenty of chic visual fare with red tinged frames, elegant wipes and dated fonts on plates. These are seamlessly layered with an effective background score, which is racy with an adrenaline charged tempo.
The film is technically suave and the execution of every aspect is pitch perfect, but the overall effect is that of an exciting audio-visual comic which lacks depth.