The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a popular television series which enjoyed a four-year run on NBC from 1964 to 1968. Trading on the success of the James Bond film franchise, the show featured another dashing character created by Ian Fleming, author of the 007 novels.
This movie adaptation stars Henry Cavill in the title role as Napoleon Solo, a suave sophisticated spy employed by U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), a top secret, international espionage agency. While the TV Solo was a college graduate and honorably-discharged Korean War veteran, the movie’s Napoleon Solo is a convicted art thief who reluctantly agrees to work for the CIA in return for a reduced prison sentence.
The picture is directed by Guy Ritchie who is known for action adventures like Snatch (2000) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). The movie co-stars Armie Hammer as Solo’s partner, KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin. However, where the original Ilya was a mild-mannered sleuth, in the film he’s a hot head who loses his temper at the drop of a hat.
The movie unfolds in East Berlin in 1963, where we find Solo and Kuryakin initially squaring off as adversaries. The former has been dispatched behind the Iron Curtain to recruit Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist who may have fallen into the clutches of a crime syndicate seeking to acquire the bomb. After Ilya, supposedly a KGB agent, helps Solo in the recruitment of Gaby, he is introduced to Napoleon as his new partner.
Soon, together with Gaby, they’re embroiled in a race against time to foil a plot hatched by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), the brains behind an Italian terrorist organization that was suspected of kidnapping Gaby’s father. Unfortunately, the deliberately paced cat-and-mouse caper which ensues is too low-key to generate much edge-of-the-seat tension.
Good (**). Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive material, and partial nudity. In English, German, Russian, and Italian with subtitles. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.