Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.(2015)

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Spy movies are nothing new. The tropes are all recognizable: the car chases, gadgets, cheesy one-liners, and ambiguous love interest. It’s hard to find anything really new and unusual in the genre. However, the film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. presents more slick and stylish cinematography than others (although it could use a bit more narrative substance).

This film was not the most spectacular one to watch, but the images were intriguing and stick in my mind. I honestly fell in love with the characters, regardless of whether or not they were cliché, loving Armie Hammer’s performance in particular. His character struggles with mental illness and emotional unavailability, and he played it believably. Henry Cavill played the more cliché character, a charismatic, playboy of a spy. It was hard not to roll my eyes with some of his cheesy, over-masculine one-liners. I was disappointed by the character, expecting more from Cavill. As far as the treatment of women, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) was smart and a great mechanic, but still a damsel in distress in the end. She’s often objectified. It’s as if the writers wrote a strong female character on paper, but failed to give her any believable heroism on screen. She ticks off the boxes that avoid being a complete damsel in distress, and they figured it was okay. In the end, she essentially is there to serve as a love interest and provide conflict. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I rooted for her to end up with Illya. Yes, I know, the spy always gets the girl. But this couple got to me. I think they had an undeniable chemistry (even though Ilya was fairly misogynistic). It was something about the subtle vulnerability in Hammer’s mannerisms. The way all three of these characters play off of each other with their different personalities was a bit overdone, but worked well enough.

The editing in the film is unique, showing techniques that I had never seen before. For example, the subtitles when characters were speaking in a different language weren’t always strictly across the bottom. The lines that are meant to stand out and have the most meaning to the plot were bolded, bigger, or placed in an interesting way on screen. One of my favorite examples of editing is when Gaby is in the car having a conversation. The camera is placed outside the glass, a shot that has been done before. However, when the camera is outside the glass, the audience cannot hear the conversation. It’s as if we are actually outside the car, wanting to hear the words but not able to. Instead, we hear the words through a crackling radio, a result of a bug in the car. It’s only when Gaby rolls the window down that we are finally a part of the conversation.

Sound editing continues to present itself as unique throughout the film. Most spy movies have an action sequence, presented as a montage. This film definitely uses that, but in a more nonconventional way. The screen is split in three or four places, showing multiple actions happening at the same time. Yes, this has been done before. But I found it interesting that there was not sound or dialogue. Just music. There weren’t even gunshots heard.

This film relies a lot on music to provoke emotional reactions from the audience. The music used when Solo is in the truck eating as Illya drives a boat fighting off explosions adds to the comical element of the scene. The song played does not match the action outside of the vehicle. This mitch-match of music and action is an element repeated in the movie.

The camera angles also proved to be very interesting. When Solo first meets Gaby, she is on her back working under a car. The audience gets a perspective shot of Napoleon, as if we are on the floor looking up. At another point in the film, Solo is drugged, and the image of the woman he sees is distorted (as well as her voice). The film enjoys putting audiences in the perspective of others, keeping the viewer’s attention and impressing film bloggers such as myself.

The film seems to set up a sequel, and unlike most films, I wouldn’t be opposed to one. I felt the movie ended with audiences wanting more. Overall, this film is a great one to watch if you’re into espionage films or period pieces. It plays off all of the cliché spy tropes we’ve all seen, but it also brought some new techniques to the table, and the cast meshed well. Not the most remarkable I have seen substance wise, but as far as spy movies go, I liked it.

Better than the most recent Bond film, in my opinion.

-B

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