My Rating: [usr 2]
Guy Ritchie’s mainstream filmmaking rebirth continues with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (an incredibly annoying title to type), based on the 1964 MGM television series of the same name. I know the television series was apparently popular (I’ve never seen a second of it), but one has to wonder how much of a demand there was for this material. The nearly 20 year production history of this film suggests that, at one time, it was thought of as a high commodity. However, based off this feather light adaptation, it’s very existence could be called into question.
Back to Ritchie, he’s certainly a competent filmmaker, and U.N.C.L.E. is a handsomely mounted production. It’s interesting to look at how Ritchie has come to this point in his career as a director making mainstream entertainment. His early successes — Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) — were acclaimed despite criticism that Ritchie was simply copying Quentin Tarantino. This was a common accusation quite a few filmmakers faced post Pulp Fiction (1994), but nonetheless, Ritchie broke the mold while developing his own cult following.
However, his early successes turned into one of the mightiest critical backlashes anyone has ever faced. After Ritchie’s very public marriage to Madonna, his next two films — Swept Away (2002) and Revolver (2005) — received absolutely abysmal reviews and little fanfare. Rock n’ Rolla (2008), was seen as a comeback of sorts, but his two Sherlock Holmes films (2009, 2011) showed that Ritchie was capable of dialing down his act for something more mainstream.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a stylish film, but not in a way that’s ultimately memorable. It’s the kind of film you’ll instantly forget about 5 minutes after you’ve seen it. Things happen, and elegant set pieces and action scenes go by, but nothing immediately leaps out as special about this film. Stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki and Hugh Grant, are all fine and are equally fashionable, but they’re let down by an uneven script that lacks a solid pace.
The uneven tone is only compounded by Ritchie’s busy, but restrained direction. You almost feel like he’s a director suffering from ADHD who’s been taking his Adderall prescription. This is also one of those period films that loves reminding the audience that we’re in the time period (early 60’s Cold War) they’re in. A sort of bland, but well done opening credits sequence establishes the film’s Cold War setting, the problem is that there’s no attempts at subverting history even though the premise is completely fictional. In other words, the film largely hopes to get by on vintage charm alone.
So, while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has a few things enjoyable going for it and is not a rough sit through, the tone and direction never feel completely self-assured. The result is a film that gives good face, but not much else.