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

One of the more lamentable trends that have taken hold in Hollywood is to resurrect popular television series as a high profile feature film. The results of this methodology generally results in movies that have more to do with the studio’s business plan than with any contribution to the cinematic arts or respect to the fans of the original material. As with any speaking generalization there are notable exceptions. A recent example was released as a summer action movie has already made its way to Blu-ray and DVD; ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ loosely based upon the quintessential spy series of the 60s I found myself pleasantly surprised at several aspects of its construction. The 60s was a time in the United States and the Soviet Union locked in a deadly stalemate; the Cold War. In many ways this was the beginning of the information era when the battle was won not to combat achieve some geographic advantage but rather by ferreting out covert information detrimental to your enemy. Both films and television responded with the myriad of offerings with James Bond dominating the cinema and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. blazing the trail on television. The characters in this television series almost immediately became the epitome of spies, working for clandestine organization ponder some of the most ingenious gadgets possible. A major portion of the foundation for the success of this bill is that it did not try to re-create the television series. Instead it took the characters and placed them on different paths, initially having them on different sides of the great social political conflict of the time. There is also no attempt to make the story within the context of modern events. It was set in the 60s, the height of the Cold War, retaining much of the essence of the television show while distinguishing itself as its own portrayal of the characters in the circumstances that surround them.

The story is set in 1963 and in this incarnation of the franchise the debonair, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is a professional thief with been recruited by the CIA for his abilities which encompass such useful skills as bypassing security systems and extricating valuable items unnoticed by their protectors. His latest mission is to liberate a beautiful young woman, Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander), whose father is Udo Teller (Christian Berkel) a scientist who was allegedly once a Nazi scientist significant importance was come to work for the United States after World War II. His daughter was in East Berlin is also being sought by determine KGB agents, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). The actors who created the roles in the original series became so iconic in the genre that it had to be an arduous task for a new set of actors to undertake those characters. Fortunately the casting director demonstrated some inspiration in the choices made. For most baby boomers Robert Vaughn was Napoleon Solo having created the character as a small screen version of James Bond. It was suave and debonair and quite adroit at demonstrating his martial arts prowess in full formal wear. Filling those immaculate polished shoes, Henry Cavill is an active of exceptional range most recently filling another character firmly woven into the fabric of our zeitgeist and Martin mythology, Clark Kent/Superman. Mr. Hammer faced a similar challenge taking on the role of the most famous Russian spy working for the forces of democracy. While the role of Illya was initially molded by Scottish journeyman actor, David McCallum, some may think it’s a stretch for young man from California to soon this role. Previously Mr. Walker was on the extremely popular primetime teen soap opera, ‘Gossip Girl’, refers a mainstay of the youth-oriented CW network. Some may remember him for his recurring role on the horror/comedy ‘Reaper ‘, which was canceled brie before it’s time. This pair of actors was able to generate chemistry that were within the context of the movie go to most are hard fans is unable to rival the original.

It is not only acceptable that the back stars of the main characters are radically different from the television counterparts, it is absolutely crucial to the success that this film was able to achieve. Instead of having to expert spies accustomed to working in partnership the story forces the two adversaries together requiring that the work towards a common goal. Is discovered that Tele has a, Rudi (Sylvester Groth) was employed in a shipping yard in Rome. The business is owned by extremely wealthy couple, Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) Vinciguerra, who were suspected Nazi sympathizers during the war. The connection such as this brings in another plot point with historical perspective. The Cold War technology was crucial to both superpowers. Nazi scientists were instrumental in creating the main technological advances during this period of time; the space race and nuclear weaponry. While the focus of the television series was mostly assignments aimed at thwarting ‘Thrush’, the evil covert organization powerful world domination, the central storyline for this film is heavily grounded in real situations that pervaded the activities in the intelligent communities during that decade. This does convey a sense of realism removing any element of self-parody those attached to the television show.

While breaking into a warehouse owned by the sinister couple, they do fine traces of uranium, evidence that they may be constructing a nuclear weapon of some sort. Forced to escape over water, Kuryakin force and almost drowns but is rescued by his new partner, Solo. This formally establishes this movie as a specific type by the film, adversaries joined together to achieve a common goal. Of course in such a plot device it is necessary to show that the trust is mutual. This occurs when solo was captured as being tortured by uncle Rudi only to be stayed in the nick of time by Kuryakin. Eventually the unlikely partners are approached by a high-ranking member of MI6, Alexander Waverly (Hugh Grant) reveals some pieces of the story they had not previously been privy to. After the mission is completed bravely approaches Solo and Kuryakin with an opportunity to join a new global intelligence organization. Of course any fan of the original television so remember that Alexander Waverly was a character who in part was created by the author of James Bond literary franchise, Ian Fleming. It was brought to life by the veteran actor of stage and screen, Leo G. Carroll. Once again ingenious casting avoids having a movie spiral down into a fading shatter of the original TV show.

At last there is a movie based on the television series with the writer and director have the talent and acumen to head off in a different direction. When you look back at most of the films made from TV shows they tried too hard to include as many references as possible to the source material. This places artificial constraints on both a screenwriter and director workforce to stifle their own creativity and inclinations with an exceptionally constraint derivative ‘inside jokes’. This typically results in a tongue-in-cheek comedy thankfully the filmmaker responsible for this movie, Guy Ritchie, is a man who built his career on gritty urban crime thrillers and evening him to infuse this movie with sufficient gravitas to be taken so seriously is a worthy addition to the honorable genre of espionage stories. At this movie attempted to modernize the series would have lost the essence what made that show such a long-lasting favorite. One factor that is often overlooked in the migration of a favorite TV show is that many of them represented a specific time and place making it more difficult to translate into another era and location. Unlike stories that are based primarily on aspects of the human experience such as love betrayal, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is at its foundation the Holly romanticized spies fighting in largely unseen war crucial information. This movie succeeded because remained true to that foundation and built its own structure upon it.

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Posted 11/16/2015

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