Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (PG-13)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill
August 2015

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

The Man From UNCLE
Who better to play rival spies than Superman (Cavill) and the Lone Ranger (Hammer)?

“I just hope he doesn’t drive as fast as he moves,” Mr. Important Suit says.
In an ironic twist, Hammer proves to be faster than a speeding bullet.

“He’s trying to stop the car.” Ha!
A funny scene, especially when Cavill refuses to shoot Hammer because he’s amused by the audacity and tenacity of his foreign counterpart.

“Inside every Kraut is an American trying to come out.” #ColdWarHumor
Perhaps, but is every Kraut sour?

“America is teaming up with Russia.” And there’s our premise.
Writ large for those who can’t figure it out on their own.

“It doesn’t have to match.” These spies fight over everything, even women’s fashion.
Actually, it’s a bit frightening how much they know about women’s fashion. Does their job often require them to dress up in female disguises? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

“Good night little chop shop girl.” All danced out, apparently.
Or in a liquor coma.

“These...are...Russian...made.” Amusing scene.
It’s scenes like this that lighten the mood and help move the story along in the movie’s early goings.

The slap upside the head scene is hilarious.
And totally unrealistic. Even a Vulcan nerve pinch seems more feasible.

Who peels a grape?
Seems like a waste of time…and food. It also seems a tad masochistic, which leads us to…

Pain and’s two masters. If you’re a masochist.
I thought love conquered all? Guess I need to keep up with the times.

“For a special agent you aren’t having a special day, are you?” #HughGrant’s comedic timing is flawless.
Though he has a few more wrinkles these days, Grant is still an effective funny man.

The scene where the 4-wheeler glides over the water is amazing.
This action sequence is arguably the finest in the movie and is aided immensely by aerial shots that zoom in on moving objects, a la documentary filmmaking.

“How’s that for entertainment?” Fun nonlinear sequence.
However, even though it’s a well executed scene, it borrows heavily from Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies.

“You’re a terrible spy, cowboy.” Back at you, Ruskie.
Amazing that, all these years later, Cold War tropes and stereotypes still find their way into modern entertainment.

Final analysis: gorgeous locations, arresting action and solid acting overcome an opaque plot.
That last point is the movie’s main drawback. The first quarter of the film is a head-scratcher until enough of the plot pieces fall into place and the story starts to make sense…sort of.

3 out of 4. The humor, action and brilliant film style put it over the top for this spy yarn.

Based on the 60s espionage TV series of the same name, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. focuses on the exploits of one American and one Russian spy who are forced to work together for the global good during the Cold War…no easy task. Obviously, this premise had more relevance back in the 60s than it does today, although, Cold War tensions, under one guise or another, still persist in the modern world. A small screen answer to the Bond films, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was heavy on intriguing spycraft and thrilling adventure, both of which, fortunately, have been carried over into the big screen adaptation. In the TV series, Robert Vaughn played Napoleon Solo and David McCallum played Illya Kuryakin; here it’s Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, respectively. The opening scene introduces the characters and sets up a rather amusing game of cat and mouse between the two superstar spies. The real fun begins when they’re forced to work together as partners—the clash of styles and cultures instigates many humorous and spirited exchanges between the two agents. The action scenes, though few and far between, are superbly storyboarded and realized. However, they don’t contain the typical jaw-dropping visuals that you’d expect to find in a big budget summer action film, with the exception of the aerial shots captured for the high-octane chase scene. Ritchie’s use of stylistic elements—i.e., quick freeze frame shots, prismatic lens flares, etc—is really what prevents the film from becoming yet another action movie clone. An editing/narrative technique employed here, which was also used to great effect in the director’s Sherlock Holmes films, involves using flashback sequences to explain the mysteries that were planted earlier in the story. Although it’s gimmicky and trite, this storytelling device works quite well here. If there’s a downside to the movie, it’s the slowly-paced, frequently confusing story. Even though Ritchie eventually answers all of the questions posed during the movie, trying to figure out where the story’s going is often an arduous, frustrating task. If you have the appropriate degree of patience and focus, there’s a good chance the film will actually make sense to you. Otherwise, you might find this film to be an exercise in consternation. Still, in this age of shallow storylines with gaping plot holes (Transformers, Pacific Rim, etc.), having too much story is a nice change of pace over having too little. As for the acting, Cavill and Hammer are perfectly cast and have amazing screen chemistry as feuding partners forced to find common ground while fighting a common enemy. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) is also extremely effective as the duplicitous damsel in distress and provides a tantalizing wild card element to the proceedings. All things considered, this is a decent film that’s entertaining, if not earth-shattering. An U.N.C.L.E. franchise seems feasible as long as emerging stars Cavill and Hammer remain interested in the films and as long as patrons keep showing up to see them. Coming fast on the heels of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and carrying the torch for Spectre, the next James Bond film set to release this fall, U.N.C.L.E. is another 60s spy property that proves this action sub-genre is alive and well.