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

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

(M) Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander

The Man from U.N.C.L.E (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) is most likely not a television show that people will remember from their childhood or have even experienced in re-runs. Besides taking the title and the basic concept of that TV show from the 1960s, this espionage excursion provides a fresh take on the spy game.

This big screen version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is set during the 1960s, against the backdrop of the Cold War. Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) incorporates a style of film-making that is less Bourne and more retro-Bond with well-dressed, clichéd agents and well-timed dialogue that takes front stage over action. Not that there is no action on offer, but it is provided in a more stylised and methodical way.

The central characters are CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). These agents who must put aside their national loyalties to work together to bring down a criminal organisation that is profiting from the burgeoning nuclear weapons market. Adding a link between these two agents is the sensual and fiery Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), who provides the means of finding the well-connected arms dealers.

This origins spy story has a different pacing, action and spirit that counteracts the current trend in foreign-agent adventures. Ritchie seems to take on the mantra “Everything that is old is new again” by providing something new with the film’s retro packaging. Fans of this director will see his fingerprints everywhere, while being conscious of fresh techniques as well. Ritchie utilises some of his trademarks to provide touches to lighting, well-timed dialogue and subtle sexuality that complements the action.

One pleasant surprise is his ability to elicit strong performances from Cavill and Hammer. The nature of the story develops around their bizarre partnership and their reliance on each other’s special agent skills — which also seems to be the case with the actor’s performances, too. On their own, these actors are one-dimensional and potentially boring, but together they present a uniformity that is quite enjoyable to watch on the big screen. Their relationship takes time to build, but in the end it does deliver. The true adhesive that brings them together and provides the elemental connection for their performances is Vikander (Ex Machina). An up-and-coming force in Hollywood, she delivers the sensual and feminine spark that perfectly complements this combative bunch of agents.

If you’re expecting Bourne-style action or even something like a recent Bond incarnation, you’ll be disappointed. But, if you go into the cinema looking for a fresh take on a well-worn espionage storyline, pleasant surprise shall be yours. You’re also likely to be looking forward to the next instalment of these undercover agents.

In the realm of on-screen espionage, the ability to bring up war, national loyalties and the atrocities of mankind are extremely obvious. But The Man From U.N.C.L.E. brings the radical notion of “loving your enemy” to the fore.

Loving our neighbour is an idea that can be seen in many of the world’s religions and philosophies, but a radical notion introduced by Jesus was to not only love our neighbours — but love our enemies. Honestly, this has to be one of the most confronting concepts in the Bible and one of the hardest to implement. Individually it is challenging, but how about on the global scale? Could the high-stakes situations of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. benefit from the loving of enemies?

Loving your enemy — as opposed to going to war — has its appeal and surely is worth considering, for ourselves and for global politics. However, be careful to not mistake Jesus for being merely meek and mild.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

  1. Where is real hope found? (Deuteronomy 31:6, Romans 5:2-5)
  2. Can we love our enemies? (Luke 6:27, Romans 12:19-21)
  3. Why is it so hard to trust other people? (Proverbs 6:12-16, Romans 3:10-18)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


More from The Big Picture team on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


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