The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
A fun and uber-stylish crime/spy-caper from Guy Ritchie - expect nothing less! - with a dash of camp and noir. Unfortunately this time round, style beats substance, and the gorgeous men and women, well-directed action sequences, and nifty twists are not enough to cover up the fact that the plot is thin, the characterisations are two-dimensional at best, and the cast really did not have much chemistry.
Ritchie has not really made a great film since the double whammy of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. After getting married, and then divorced, to Madonna and getting seduced by Hollywood to do RDJ's vanity Sherlock Holmes project and its eye-rolling sequel, there was hope that he could ignite his creative juices again.
UNCLE showed that Ritchie is a good director with an eye for action and comedy, and that he has a distinctive style. But he has lost that originality. Throughout the whole 116 minutes run time, the film felt like a mash-up of a Quentin Tarantino western (complete with the appropriate accompanying soundtrack) and a Mexican action telenovela (think: Lito's movie scenes in Sense8). There was no sense of the British spy genre - see: Kingsman or Skyfall - which Ritchie seemed to be gunning for in the (excellent) opening sequence, although granted that UNCLE was initially an American series.
Then we have the casting. Nothing against having pretty and gorgeous people on the screen. That is their job. But couldn't we have more authenticity here which would have greatly enhanced the enjoyment if we were not subjected to inconsistent accents? Look, we have Henry Cavil, a British playing an American; Armie Hammer who is an American playing a Russian, the gorgeous - and much wasted - Swedish Alicia Vikander who plays a German; and Elizabeth Debicki who is an Australian playing an Italian. Thankfully we have Hugh Grant playing Hugh Grant!
Cavil, was at least still acceptable. Especially since as Superman he is practically American now. And the English language is not hard to transmute although he sounds a lot better when his original British accent snuck out. So at least that was not a stretch.
Hammer was a conundrum. He played the part well except when he spoke. Look at The Americans, even the Russians there spoke better English than him. Would it have been so hard to cast a Russian or an actor who speaks Russian and English? What does Hammer bring to the table? His last movie, The Lone Ranger, bombed spectacularly. This would not have been the breakout role for him after his much more well-received turns on The Social Network and J. Edgar.
Vikander was wasted. We know, from Ex Machina, that she is capable of so much more. But here, she was merely a prop and plot device. And just in case they get called out for being feminist, she's a mechanic too and drives like a pro (at least only in the first scene). Although guess what? This film definitely fails the Bechdel test.
It was refreshing to have Debicki to be the main villain of the movie. And she deliciously camped it up. But that was all about it. The conversation in the writers' room must have gone something like this:
"We need a villain."
"Let's make it the wife!"
"Brilliant! That's different!"
"And so not feminist!"
"But why her?"
"She must be blond and skinny and sexy..."
"But why her?"
"Uses sex as a weapon..."
"But why her?"
"...and there's bombs! And explosions!"
At least the cinematography by John Mathieson was gorgeous, and Daniel Pemberton gave us great music to watch the film by. Although the costumes, for such a stylish show, fell short. Budget reasons? Cavill could have a much spiffier wardrobe, and definitely so for the gorgeous Vikander.