‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’: A Long Journey to the Screen
Guy Ritchie’s latest film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is hitting theaters today, and for Ritchie, it’s his first film since the 2011 Sherlock Holmes film, A Game of Shadows. U.N.C.L.E. itself, has had a long, winding journey to the big screen.
The premise, as it relates to the 1960s TV show of the same name, is quite interesting. It stands to relate the backstory of how an American spy (Napoleon Solo, played by Henry Cavill, Man of Steel) and a Russian one (Illya Kuryakin, played by Armie Hammer, Lone Ranger) came to work together for the U.N.C.L.E. organization. According to the film’s co-writer and producer, Lionel Wigram, in a recent Variety story, “We wanted to look at how, at this moment in time, did a Russian and an American come to team up?”
The film also features Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) as Gaby Teller, a woman affiliated with U.N.C.L.E.’s mission. Hugh Grant also makes an appearance as the head of the espionage organization, Alexander Waverly.
For Ritchie, this is his eighth feature film, and the 46-year-old is also directing and co-producing next year’s summer epic, Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur, starring Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim) as the sword-wielding King Arthur, along with Jude Law (Spy) as Vortigen and Eric Bana (Deliver Us from Evil) as Uther Pendragon.
Ritchie said, in the Variety piece, that the Arthur tale will be a complete re-imagining of the historical tale. The “complete re-imagining” tactic is one Ritchie readily has in his directorial arsenal. With U.N.C.L.E., Variety reports that the director is completely immersive in his projects. While in London, Wigram stays with Ritchie, and the two hash out plenty of neat intricacies of the film. Whether it’s a fight scene or a witty piece of dialogue, the writers of U.N.C.L.E., most definitely lived it, and played out its many contingencies.
The project itself, on a $75 million budget, is produced by Ritchie/Wigram Productions and Davis Entertainment, and is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Even still, Jenelle Riley of Variety writes that “U.N.C.L.E. … poses a sizable risk for the Burbank studio. The film … lacks proven box office stars, and the underlying property isn’t nearly as popular as, say, the Scotland Yard sleuth or the mythic king of Ritchie’s other upcoming release…”
What’s more, before Ritchie, the project had been through plenty of setbacks. Was it, then, taboo? Producer John Davis originally optioned the film rights to the 1960s TV series in 1993, with a development deal with Warner Bros., and series producer Norman Felton. Over 20 years, 12-14 scripts were commissioned, from a handful of writers. Quentin Tarantino, who’s latest film The Hateful Eight is garnering attention, was also attached to the project for a time, after Pulp Fiction. The film remained in limbo, though, with directors Matthew Vaughn and David Dobkin.
In 2012, director Steven Soderbergh was set to begin production on the project, but a budget dispute landed U.N.C.L.E. right back in the limbo it was it was extracted from. He left the project in late 2011.
Ritchie signed onto the project in 2013. Filming began in London and Italy that year.
Through the initial stages, A-list actors such as George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Pine, and Ryan Reynolds (to name a few), were considered for the lead role of Napoleon.
Tom Cruise was also attached to the project for a time, but a “conflict about how many spies he was playing” drew him away from U.N.C.L.E.
There were plenty of ups and downs, plenty of development quirks to work out, but Ritchie took the ball and ran with it.
Once underway, the project has been described in Variety as a productive one. Alicia Vikander described her casting process as an initial Skype call with Ritchie — about boats, and then a meeting in L.A. where they “ate cakes, drank coffee and talked about music history.” She said that the script was not discussed in the process.
Producer Susan Downey also told Variety that Ritchie is “precious, [and] the best ideas win with him. They’ll continue to work on the material until the cameras are rolling.”
Vikander echoed that sentiment, saying “I’ve never had so much fun on a shoot. As an actor, you feel you’re with somebody who’s in complete control, and it gives you a real trust. You feel like you’re in safe hands and can work very collaboratively.”
To give you perspective on the consensus of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at this point, look no further than Rotten Tomatoes. It currently holds a 67 percent rating on the Tomatometer.
Lastly, io9’s Esther Inglis-Arkell writes: “You want fun? You want fast? You want pretty? Go see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But while you’re there, you might get something more. This movie is a lesson on style, and how it can be much more than just gloss.”
Catch The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at a theater near you, starting August 14.
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