(Guy Ritchie, 2015)
Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was always going to have to work exceptionally hard to win me over, seeing as it was not Stephen Soderbergh's The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had always sounded like just my kind of thing.
Ritchie must have liked the sound of that project too, because his movie takes much of its style and approach straight from Soderbergh's "Oceans" movies, most particularly the misunderstood oddball masterpiece at the midpoint in the trilogy, Oceans Twelve.
This is an origin story, detailing the first encounter between 1960s spies from different sides of the Iron curtain. We have suave, confident CIA man Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill, assured) and stubborn, man-mountain KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). They first clash in East Berlin, where Solo spirits out Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from under Kuryakin's nose, before they learn that they are to team up and work together in order to locate some nuclear warheads about to be sold to Neo-Nazis in Italy. The warheads are in the possession of Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), so the two men and Gaby go under cover, in an effort to find out their location.
The story is thin and feels like the kind of thing that did happen in the 1960s tv series upon which this is based, but there are some factors which make the film a pleasing watch despite this. While Cavill has shown the ability to carry a film in the right role (one where he flies and wears a big red S on his chest), he's never shown any sign of a sense of humour before now, but his Solo is a witty bad boy who hides that beneath a smooth veneer, impeccable taste and great manners. He has chemistry with Hammer's Kuryakin, who deals with anger issues through violence. He in turn has a few good scenes with Vikander's Gaby.
Ritchie has always been great with style. He understands framing and editing, his sense of rhythm is excellent, and his films always look wonderful. And here that facility is at its fullest expression; he makes '60s Italy look a shining wonderland. He seems to have cast his leads because they all look so good together (this applies to Elizabeth Debicki as the villainess too), and they are all beautifully dressed throughout, captured by some divine John Mathieson cinematography. It seems to nod to some '60s spy capers too, and the breezy, often-quirky approach is only bolstered by Daniel Pemberton's fabulous score, full of period touches, and very reminiscent of David Holmes' work for Soderbergh.
Yes it's fantastically empty, but then so are most action blockbusters, and at least this one doesn't pretend to be serious by being solemn. Instead, Ritchie amps up the style. He's not even really interested in the action scenes. He shoots a speed-boat confrontation between Kuryakin and some goons as glimpsed occasionally in the background as his camera lingers on Solo, who has broken into a lorry and sits in the drivers seat eating a sandwich and drinking wine. Another one he fragments into a dizzying series of split-screens, before melding two back together. Another takes place utterly offscreen. And yet it entertains: it is funny, cool, exciting.