There is a German word, Sehnsucht, which expresses a feeling of nostalgia for a life which one has never experienced – perhaps even for a world which has never existed. It may be Sehnsucht which explains my weakness for spy films with men in turtlenecks. The recent reboot of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. suggests that I am not alone.
The film, unusually light on its feet for something directed by Guy Ritchie, came out in 2015. However, it only just hit my Netflix list, so Millenials can count it as a new release.
We begin in East Berlin (of course) where a beautiful young girl (of course) is trying to cross the Wall (of course). She receives help from a frustratingly mysterious stranger (of course), but we soon realize that nothing (of course) is as it seems. The set-up is as comforting as a fairytale that begins with “Once upon a time…”
The main thing you need to know about this film is that it has got style. The plot might be older than Ian Fleming, and you’ve heard all the lines before, but they are delivered with verve and talent. The car chases are slick, and well thought out, and also extremely funny. The set designer has come up with just the right combination of Cold War kitsch and high production values. Everybody involved is clearly having the time of their lives.
But there is something more to this film – something that sets it apart from the standard spy movie fare of sleek suits, grappling hooks, cutely disguised microphones and villains straight out of a Freudian textbook. It’s the way that two of the spies, a Russian and an American (played by Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill respectively), are played off against each other.
And I don’t mean the standard two-hour grudge match between national stereotypes. (In fact, to my relief, terrible cod accents were kept to a minimum.) Instead we are watching a battle between force and forethought, following orders and interpreting them, actions and words. Neither side wins. Instead, they learn to laugh at each other’s jokes. I can’t remember the last time I saw a spy movie that wasn’t a one-man show.
Of course it all ends with a tremendously over-the-top climax, and the groundwork laid for a future sequel is obvious enough to be seen from space. But believe me: I’ll watch the sequel. I might even make it to the cinema, instead of waiting for the stream.