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This globetrotting John le Carré adaptation – directed by Susanna White and adapted by Hossein Amini – ticks many of the boxes one might associate with the author’s stories. Damien Lewis plays a George Smiley-type within MI6; Stellan Skarsgård is a high-profile money launderer – linked to the Russian Mafia – who is about to hand over information about dirty money that’ll implicate a senior British politician; Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris play a couple who get caught up in the middle of the exchange while holidaying in Morocco, and they routinely make the kind of stupid movie character decisions that no-one in their right mind would make in real life. The locations – London, Marrakech, Paris, Bern, the French Alps – are reasonably glamorous (though all linked by budget airlines) and within those places the emphasis is very much on the high life, with fancy health clubs, Eurotrash-filled party venues and opulent dining rooms adding plenty of gloss to the affair. Skarsgård – playing a gregarious, extravagant oligarch – clearly has the most fun of any of the actors, and his is probably the most interesting character, veering from concerned, protective family man to cornered psychopath in a heartbeat. Lewis also hams it up a little as one of those stereotypical English spymasters with mac, glasses and a tight-lipped, clipped way of speaking, but he makes an impression even though the character is usually far removed from the action. Harris – Miss Monneypenny in the last two James Bond films – is fine, if a little underused, while McGregor is an actor I struggle to watch more and more as the years go by, and despite the fact he’s been OK of late in a couple of villain roles I’m afraid he is the obvious weak link in the cast of this particular film; it doesn’t help that there’s really no need for either his character or that of Harris to remain in the story after half an hour or so, but their presence as supposedly-ordinary people does infuse a couple of scenes with added tension, at least. It’s fine, and contains some pleasing cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, though his heavy use of reflective surfaces to create impressionistic, colourful images does wear thin after a while. There are one or two neat literary touches: the final shot, for example, is a callback to an earlier scene in which McGregor’s professor lectures on T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (though I imagine only those familiar with the street names of central London and the poem will get the reference). In this we see McGregor’s everyman walking against the flow of people, the inference being that he doesn’t follow the crowd, though in actual fact the actor’s performance is so grey it might have been more apt to have him blend in with the massed throng making its way over London Bridge.

Directed by: Susanna White.
Written by: Hossein Amini. Based on Our Kind Of Traitor by John le Carré.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris, Damien Lewis, Velibor Topic, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Northam, Mark Stanley.
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle.
Editing: Tariq Anwar, Luchia Zuchetti.
Music: Marcelo Zarvos.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 107 minutes.
Year: 2016.

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The-Man-from-U.N.C.L.E.-2015-WallpapersThis light, breezy comedy-thriller by Guy Ritchie doesn’t have all that much in common with its TV show predecessor, other than the basic conceit of uniting an American CIA agent and a Russian KGB operative as a Cold War odd couple, but it does an effective enough job as an origin story; such films are ten-a-penny these days, and this is no less deserving of a franchise than anything else out there, but moderate success at the box office earlier this year may well put the brakes on a mooted sequel actually being made. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star as the charismatic Napoleon Solo and the reserved Illya Kuryakin respectively, and the pair share plenty of easy chemistry on screen, where both characters make clear their mistrust and misgivings while also displaying a childlike desperation to impress the opposite number; Ritchie’s screenplay imbues their awkward professional relationship with a slight homoerotic edge, but rather than anything serious it would have been a welcome surprise to see openly gay heroes in a mainstream action film, for once – this is all firmly in keeping with the tone of the film and is established through comic innuendo. Sadly I guess anything beyond that might put some people off, even in this day and age, so we’ll have to wait for another director to go for it. There are no risks taken with the plot, either. Rather than getting bogged down in the nitty gritty of the deals and political wranglings on either side of the Iron Curtain, Ritchie moves the pair on from gloomy Berlin to a caper in the dolce vita of mid-’60s Rome at a fairly early stage, and the latter setting informs the film’s style: all sharp suits, men in speedboats, swanky event flirtations, Cinecittà strings and swish hotel rooms. Joining in the fun are Alicia Vikander, who plays a mechanic tied to a family of Nazi-sympathisers-stroke-nuclear-weapons-enthusiasts, and Hugh Grant, who Hugh Grants his way through a minor role as a besuited British spy chief. The emphasis is on fun and froth, as with Ritchie’s previous brace of Sherlock Holmes films, and all told he makes a good fist of it. If your expectations are low you will probably be entertained: the story is as plain as they come but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is all about the eye candy, while the soundtrack jumps very tastefully from soul (Roberta Flack, Solomon Burke) to sweeping, grandiose Italian period scores and the set pieces are laced with good humour.

Directed by: Guy Ritchie.
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram (screenplay), Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson (story). Based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. by Ian Fleming, Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe.
Starring: Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris.
Cinematography: John Mathieson.
Editing: James Herbert.
Music:
Daniel Pemberton, Various.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
116 minutes.
Year:
2015.

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spy melissa mccarthyWriter / director Paul Feig’s third collaboration with Melissa McCarthy is a spoof on the male-centric spy genre, though in truth it only ever manages to fix its sights firmly on the James Bond films, mimicking the work of John Barry, the use of gadgets and the glitzy locations while incorporating its own versions of the helicopter, plane and motorbike stunts that have become de rigeur for 007. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk-bound operative locked away in the basement of the CIA’s facility in Langley, Virginia, where she is an aide to Jude Law’s suave agent as he shoots, fights and gambles his way around the world.  When he comes unstuck and other agents are compromised as a result, Cooper volunteers to go into the field and continue her colleague’s work, despite the fact she has forgotten much of her training. Rather than picking a new identity of her own, however, she is given some unflattering alter egos by Alison Janney’s CIA chief, the running joke being that they get progressively more dowdy as Cooper’s own ability at espionage increases.

Feig’s targets are all quite obvious, and when the spoofing starts to get boring (and it does, pretty quickly) his answer is to have his star pretend to be a badass bodyguard for twenty minutes so that she can lay the improv on thick and turn the air blue (which, though crude, actually results in an upturn in laughs). As widely reported elsewhere there’s also an amusing supporting turn by Jason Statham, who sends up his own macho on-screen persona by playing a tough, sexist CIA agent who is prone to braggadocio but actually quite inept, and he gets many of Spy‘s best lines: one minute gruffly asserting that he re-attached his own arm to his body when it was torn off, the next claiming that he saw the love of his life thrown from one plane only to be hit by another plane in mid-air.

This kind of spy-themed silliness has been done before, of course, and there’s little (nothing?) here that compares favourably with the mocking detail and sparkle of, say, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, Top Secret! or even 1964’s Carry On Spying. There are substantial supporting roles for two British comedians, Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowcz, and while the former delivers a rough approximation of her popular, scatty TV character Miranda the latter has the thankless task of playing up to the stereotype that Italian men are leery womanisers who can’t drive (the hilarious twist being … wait for it … he’s actually BRITISH and is just pretending to be Italian!) McCarthy definitely has bags of energy and confidence, and is willing to send herself up, but the inevitable fat jokes that are either her own or Feig’s are tired and lazy, this is twenty or thirty minutes too long and it’s not a patch on the earlier collaboration Bridesmaids. Still, it’s all subjective, and I appear to be in the minority with this one: Spy has delighted many and has proven to be a big box office hit. Wow.

Directed by: Paul Feig.
Written by: Paul Feig.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Jude Law, Alison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Serafinowicz.
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman.
Editing: Dean Zimmerman, Don Zimmerman.
Music: Theodore Shapiro.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 119 minutes.
Year: 2015.

9 Comments