Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Napoleon Solo is at it again in Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ," based on the 1964 TV series. Although the film has the usual briefcase tipping and shadowy men slinking around dark corners of any spy film, Richie's take has a staccato and breezy style with some bits of dark humor  that create an amusing, if fleeting, romp.

Solo (Henry Cavill) is a criminal taken in by the CIA and made an agent. He has a person  of interest, so to speak, in the spirited Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a scientist who was a fearsome villain but now is a US collaborator. Solo sticks close to Teller on orders to acquire intelligence on her Nazi relatives, most importantly, Teller's uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth).

As in the series, Solo is paired with Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

In typical Guy Ritchie form, the film is dependably smooth and bubbly, sliding in a slick rhythm with lots of running back and forth. Solo resembles Don Draper: slicked hair, jutting chin and gray flannel eyes. He does most of the talking, about parties and how to get his man. Kuryakin is passive and slumbering, except when he gets mad and goes into a storm of rage. There is a compelling bit involving a watch.

Just when our eyes might glaze over from bits of intrigue and gadgetry as in countless Bond films, director Ritchie gives juice to this pedestrian tale of intrigue with his trademark sardonic wit. The life of a spy may proceed in due course but it is still a desperate world.

As stock as Solo and Kuryakin are, Gaby Teller is opaque, spunky and vivacious, not easy to read. When she talks of fashion she speaks with the tongue of an ocelot, full of secrets like actress Simone Simon from "The Cat People." The narrative goes by like a graphic novel in quick, easy bursts of action. The best scenes are the ones featuring close combat followed by a single nonchalant glance.

There is a touch of the surreal as well. Often action in the foreground unfolds slowly, when  moments later, a fire suddenly occurs hinting at the matter of fact absurdity of life.

Slick and ephemeral "The Man From U.N.C.L.E. " may be, but some deadpan touches make a fitting tribute to this television-era dossier, almost bringing the glare of Robert Vaughn back in vogue.

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