Brisk, exciting, funny—The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is entertaining and intriguing from start to finish. Solo (Cavill) pops up well dressed in East Germany in a car repair shop, and has a caustic back-and-forth with the mechanic who finally slides up from under the car. It’s Gaby Teller (Vikander), whom the Americans and Russians need to locate her father, a missing German scientist who has been kidnapped and forced to work for an evil company that wants to rule the world by developing state-of-the-art nuclear warheads.
Solo’s plan is to whisk her away and take him to her uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) who knows where her father is. The trouble is, they are followed by an amazingly fit, persistent character in a reckless car chase through the streets, and Solo finally has a physical altercation with him. They do manage to escape, with Gaby none too pleased to be on board.
When Solo meets with his boss Sanders (Harris) the next morning (in a public restroom no less!), he is astounded to meet up again with the mysterious man who turns out to be a Russian spy, Illya (Hammer). Woe of woes they are now charged by the CIA and KGB with being partners in protecting Gaby and locating Teller. Illya will be identified as Gaby’s fiancé while Solo is to go undercover at the evil company and learn what he can from their operation, particularly its current head, Victoria (DeBicki).
In the process of the operation, we are entertained by Illya’s ill ease in a “romantic” relationship, his deficit in anger management, and Gaby’s delight in taunting and thwarting him every step of the way, such as drinking vodka and dancing sexily in the hotel room when he is trying to concentrate and maintain his composure.
Meanwhile, Solo easily seduces Victoria at her lavish Italian villa on the Mediterranean, with no apparent thought about her master plan and the viciousness she is capable of. She knows who he is when he crashes her elegant party, and is relishing the thought of besting him.
Casting for the film was spot on, with Cavill showing the right amount of greasy charm, class, and brilliance; Hammer adopting a convincing Russian accent, and achieving the right balance in social anxiety, sheer muscle strength, and competitiveness; and Vikander managing to be sexy, a physical wonder, and always sensible. The two men’s competitiveness is a hoot, first one then the other being one up. Vikander fits in easily as a mediator and matching strategist. I loved the equality among all three characters, with each making essential judgments and suggestions in carrying out their mission. Sanders, Grant, and Kuznetsov as the CIA, MI6, and KGB agents, respectively, are exactly right as well, although I must say, seeing Grant in that role was surprising, but he did it well.
Guy Ritchie, the director—as well as co-writer with Lionel Wigram and others—might have an especially clever, charming, and entertaining spy thriller on his record with this film. The audience in the screening I attended was consistently engaged and responsive. Cinematographer John Mathieson (Phantom of the Opera, Gladiator, 47 Ronin) deftly wielded the camera, managing to convey all the action in difficult-to-capture scenes, as well as playing up the luxury and elegance of place.
The film has an exciting end, and a smooth segue into a preview for a follow-up movie.
Clever, well choreographed, and entertaining twists in an old favorite.