Rahul's blog: A man from U.N.C.L.E
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9 September 2015

Some U.N.C.L.Es are a lot of fun!

Watched a Man from U.n.c.l.e last evening. A mega rich business family with strong fascist leanings kidnaps a scientist and covertly develops a fission bomb. They intend to hand it over to a Nazi outfit that has survived the aftermath of World War 2. A Russian and an American, super spies both, must set their countries' cold war era skirmishes aside, their own contempt for each other stemming from polar opposite personalities aside, take the help of a very attractive girl who is the key to the whole case, and basically save the world. Sounds extremely clichéd? Well, it definitely is. Added to that, director Guy Ritchie's forte has never been getting you emotionally attached to his characters. You're never going to clap and cheer in his films when the hero lands a punch on the villain. He is the British king of cool. He made his name with a distinct style and developed a cult fan base making movies that were original and intelligent fun. All this when he was still making movies in London with piddly budgets and without the burden of having to appeal to an international audience.

In today's times, when mediocrity rules the roost, an original voice like his was bound to get noticed on the other side of the Atlantic. Lock stock and two smoking barrels won him admirers in Hollywood and predictably, Brad Pitt okayed his next. Pitt is one star who has experimented more than most others. Always makes it a point to work with 'good' directors. And the reason he's their darling is that he moulds himself to their needs. Never gets them to adapt scripts to his stardom. Be it Tarantino, Fincher, Innaritu or Ritchie. And that's why Pitt's filmography is a treasure trove of cult classics.... Of all flavors and kinds. Right from the days of Thelma and Louise, A river runs through it and Kalifornia. I have so much more respect for him than some others who are far superior acting talents. Pitt and Ritchie made Snatch. Ritchie resisted the temptation to go global and made as 'local' and individualistic a film as possible. Used Pitt in the film like he would have used any local British actor. But Snatch got global attention in all the right circles. After all, here was a guy Brad Pitt had taken seriously.

Then came an uncertain period in Guy Ritchie's career. He suddenly, like it or not, had an international audience. His producers could afford to invest much more in his films. They wanted to. Probably forced him to.

It's a textbook catch 22 in most directors and actors careers. They become big making small, quirky, content rich films. But what next once you become big? Do you dilute your individuality to cater to a wider audience or stick to your personal tastes and continue on your course. The temptations are just irresistible to adopt the former approach. But you may lose your core audience who feel betrayed by your selling out. Or if you take the latter approach you may eventually fade out after being the flavor of the month. Many examples for both cases. Many many.

Ritchie tried to make a few of these and a few of that. Personally not a big fan of his films from that phase. Except maybe the reasonably enjoyable RockNRolla. I didn't really enjoy the two Sherlock movies much. To make things worse, there was a TV series around the same time that was blowing our minds with Mr. Holmes. One Mr. Cumberbatch was making it impossible for Downey Jr. or any other actor to match to him as Sherlock Holmes.

But despite everything, what makes art is the artist. A director who's strength is his staging and blocking and unique shot division will continue to fascinate us even with their failed films. Many western reviews for Man From U.N.C.L.E are probably going to say that despite all its style and pizzaz, the film suffers from a contrived and clichéd plot. Am going to say the opposite. Despite its plot, the film was very enjoyable and a lot of fun because of some deliciously witty writing and staging. And because of a certain style that flows with the film quite organically. Not all stylish films are fun. But this one certainly was. The fun keeps growing on you till the end credits. Made me want to watch a sequel asap.

The discussion that the two lead men have about what to do with the scientist even as he goes up in flames... Only Ritchie can make a man burnt to death a fun scene. I know it sounds horribly macabre. But I challenge you to not have a smile on your face even if you're Nelson Mandela's direct descendent. The boat chase scene is hilarious too! So original and so much fun. All because of a superior director's individuality in blocking, staging and shot division.

The cast was in top form. All oozing charm while also turning in pretty solid performances. And this Alicia Vikander! Such a precocious beauty! Has 10% of that X factor that Penelope Cruz had in her hey days. And 10% of Penelope Cruz is the most any actress can hope to achieve. She's my new actress crush. And my wife sitting next to me fully approved too upon my confession. The two men were perfectly cast and elevated the film.

Like some people say... Rather watch a good director's failed attempt than a formula film. Well, Man from U.n.c.l.e is a formula film from a good director. That combination might be it's weakness or strength at the box office. But I certainly had a lot of fun!

- Rahul Ravindran (Andala Rakshasi, Ala Ela and Tiger)

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