Movie Review: ‘THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.’ Has The Style But Refuses To Break A Sweat


Cole Clay //Film Critic

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.LE. | 117 min | PG-13
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris and Elizabeth Debicki

There was a time when Guy Ritchie brought together a lush cast of characters that portrayed the seedy underbelly of England’s crime syndicate. He accomplished this at a very young age with LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS, SNATCH and (somewhat) recently with ROCK N ROLLA. These movies are stellar with style and substance that work in tandem to make a trilogy of films that will be celebrated long after we’re gone. Ritchie is by no means a hack of a filmmaker, but he’s worked closely with Warner Bros. studios crafting the successful SHERLOCK HOLMES series, that many enjoyed, but I felt they were less than riveting.

Now, with THE MAN FROM U.N.C.LE., he’s adapted another property that only baby boomers will recognize, but it does work with a lot of the same themes he’s been familiar with over the years. These are charted waters for Ritchie and it’s a perfectly adequate spy film, but you know something about this project just screams “the third in a three picture” deal with the aforementioned studio.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.LE. has a brilliant little concept that pits two spy operatives against each other and forces them to work together. Napoleon Solo, (Henry Cavill) is searching for a young woman named Gaby (Alicia Vikander) in Eastern Germany at the height of the Cold War. However, there’s a wrench in his plan when the Russian KGB operative, Illya (Armie Hammer), intervenes and the two (really three) individuals have a battle of wits.

Alright, now this is the first time Cavill has been on-screen since the bombastic destruction of MAN OF STEEL. And boy, does he show off his charm. He’s good– almost too good for the screen. Solo is one of those characters that takes his time and calmly solves his problems with a snails pace. In one instance, he indulges in wine and a sandwich while he’s “partner” Illya is being chased by terrorists.

There is a plot with this film, but for review purposes it doesn’t matter too much because Cavill, Vikander and Hammer are enough reason to see the movie. The thick-like molasses plot slows the film’s momentum down quite a bit. Vikander and Hammer work alongside each other for two-thirds of the film. Hammer’s svelte physique is intimidating enough to the common man, and Ritchie knows how to use this American adonis to his advantage. Hammer has finally got the chance to shine with comedic beats and a shoddy Russian accent. It’s so corny it works.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. showcases the flair that Ritchie hasn’t lost throughout his career, no matter how large or small the film in question may be. However, there just isn’t enough narrative hold to keep the walls from crumbling against the weight of its own espionage trappings.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. opens in special screenings tonight and nationwide tomorrow.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.