There’s a scene early on in this big-screen revival of the 1960s TV series where a dashing CIA agent escapes out of East Berlin with a dashing young woman in tow, chased by another dashing KGB agent. The car maneuvers involved are intricately choreographed, oiled and fired up by some fast, razor-sharp editing, shot and lit from all kinds of sexy angles. The period set and costumes are rendered with an extra helping of retro continental flair while the snappy, jazzy score sends an irresistible charge of fun through the whole thing. It’s the sort of elaborate, very physical stunt-parade done with exceptional taste and timing that, as a cinematic experience, satisfies on every level.
The movie doesn’t exactly go downhill from there, but one is reminded of British director Guy Ritchie’s relative strength in staging action sequences as opposed to plain old storytelling fairly quickly after that. This being a fictional collaborative operation between Washington and Moscow at the height of the Cold War, the odd-couple dynamic is unsurprisingly played to the full, as is the fish-out-of-water theme featuring a stern Russian spy perplexed and offended by Western customs. These cheeky jokes and slapstick gags – some more effective than others – are inserted too frequently for a healthy narrative flow. By constantly interrupting the plot proper – about the retrieval of a nuclear warhead made by Hitler’s favourite scientist, but still – they knock the film unmistakably off balance.
That said, what a delicious exercise in style this is. Looking yummy and sounding even better, the film’s level of chic just climbs and climbs as the attractive cast flaunt their ever fancier wardrobe to the slick beats of European caper. In short, a thoroughly worthy choice for two hours of harmless, guilty pleasure on a hot summer day.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. | Directed by Guy Ritchie (USA 2015) with Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki. Starts August 13