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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Cold War Cowboys

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A rerun of yesterday's headlines assail us: "GERMANY: Spit Between East and West", "Russia Has Atomic Bomb", "Russians Build Wall Through Berlin." Our action starts at Berlin, Check­point Charlie, 1963. A smartly attired American business­man (CIA op) Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is processed through to the Communist side, then he makes his way to an auto repair shop and asks for, “Wo ich Fräulein Schmidt?” From beneath a car emerges the prettiest mechanic I've ever seen (“Danke”), Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). She is daughter of “Dr. Udo Teller, Hitler's favorite rocket scientist” who has gone missing and the Americans want her help to find him. The Russians do, too, and figuring on better treatment from the Yanks, Gaby assents to Solo's planned escape over the Wall, pursued by relentless Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

They are debriefed that, “Dr. Teller is on the verge of a breakthrough to simplify the process of enriching Uranium” for an easily made atomic bomb. His research is recorded on a computer disc. The Americans and Russians have put together a joint team using the two afore­mentioned agents to retrieve him from the Vinciguerra crime family who snatched him. They are sending them to Rome, Italy, Solo posing as one Jack Deveny a dealer in antiquities to ingratiate him­self with the family matron Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), and Illya & Gaby as an engaged couple (“It's your cover”) to contact her uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) in hopes of him leading her to her father. The rest of the world is “merrily oblivious as [they] labor to save them from extinction.”


Besides “America teaming up with Russia. That doesn't sound very friendly,” Napoleon and Illya are opposite types of finesse and brute force respectively. Both share in common, “I work better alone,” and as for the babe, Illya says, “I like my woman strong.” That sets them up to illustrate the principle, (Eccl. 4:9-12) “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall with­stand him; and a three­fold cord is not quickly broken.”

If we care to continue, we read, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” This being 1963, JFK whom we see giving a speech must have rubbed some­body wrong, because some­body rubbed him out, but the children we see saying the Pledge of Allegiance are now the audience watching the picture. At any rate Solo was a black market entrepreneur staying on in Germany after the war, who got caught and then assigned to work for the CIA in lieu of his (now suspended) fifteen year prison sentence (“For out of prison he cometh to reign”), while Illya trying to rehabilitate his family name of a good Soviet citizen applies him­self to the KGB (“it was your father's shame that gave you such drive”) and ends up having his father's watch stolen when he gets mugged in Rome, not fighting back so as not to blow his cover (“he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.”) That's pretty straight­forward, but Solomon under­standing language seems to be commenting on the multitude of Bible trans­lations and the difficulty to learn the original tongues (Eccl. 12:12.) This because the English language in its youth gave rise to the King James Version (KJV) whose wise words have since become poor in currency following the natural course of diminishing usage, like a tourist getting mugged in Rome, while the dominating modern versions of an aged English retain lots of baggage as a king does who came out of prison to reign. This is a recurring parallel in movies I've reviewed. Here language issues are suggested by Solo's fluency in English, German, Russian, Italian, and Japanese, not to mention Gaby studying Russian in the end—I wonder why.

The particular point this movie seems to address is that given by Prof. George P. Marsh in an 1859 graduate English lecture regarding the KJV:

Now, in the early part of the sixteenth century, when the development of our religious dialect was completed, the English mind, and the English language, were generally in a state of culture much more analogous to that of the people and the tongues of Palestine than they have been at any other subsequent period. Two centuries later the native speech had been greatly subtilized, if not refined. Good vernacular words had been supplanted by foreign intruders, comprehensive ideas and their vocabulary had been split up into artificially discriminated thoughts, and a corresponding multitude of terms. The language in fact had become too copious, and too specific, to have any true correspondences with so simple and inartificial a diction as that of the Christian Scriptures. Had the Bible then for the first time appeared in an English dress, the translators would have been perplexed and confounded with the multitude of terms, each expressing a fragment, few the whole, of the meaning of the original words for which they must stand; and whereas, three hundred years ago, but one good translation was possible, the eighteenth century might have produced a dozen, none altogether good, but none much worse than another. We may learn from a paragraph in Trench what a different vocabulary the Bible would have displayed, if it had been first executed or thoroughly revised at that period. One commentator, he says, thought the phrase “clean escaped” a very low expression; another would reject “straightway, haply, twain, athirst, wax (in the sense of grow), lack, ensample, jeopardy, garner, passion,” as obsolete; while the author of a new translation condemns as clownish, barbarous, base, hard, technical, misapplied, or new-coined, such words as beguile, boisterous, lineage, perseverance, potentate, remit, shorn, swerved, vigilant, unloose, unction, vocation, and hundreds of others now altogether approved and familiar. (452–53)

The feeling of the perplexity of a multitude of words shows up in the movie when a war­ship's captain needing to target a fishing boat carrying a rogue atomic weapon is presented with a list of all possible fishing boats having set sail recently—it is a long list. Fortunately, Solo recalls a photo of Victoria's husband Alexander (Luca Calvani) as a boy standing next to his father's fishing (smuggling) boat named Diadema, and, yes, Diadema is on the list. It remains only to confirm that Victoria (who has the bomb) is aboard that boat. The “harbor­master” calling the captain gets a negatory response until Illy provokes Victoria to pick up the mike, and then their fate is sealed.

To take this parallel from the theoretical to the practical, in a recent sermon, my preacher quoted Romans 12:9, (NIV) “Love must be sincere,” and he added that the Greek puts it, “without hypocrisy.” My KJV says, “Let love be without dissimulation.” In this movie sincerity is the issue where Napoleon lacks it with the women he beds. Hypocrisy is what Illya is accused of when he has conflicts regarding his being an under­cover Russian architect having a German fiancée with expensive sartorial tastes. And dissimulation is where we wonder if either Illya or Solo will merely pretend a palsy-walsy relation with the other, both being under orders to kill their counter­part after acquiring (as a team) the computer disc.

Now, Paul wrote, (1Cor. 9:26) “so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” The captain wouldn't launch a missile willy-nilly into the air, it had to be targeted. We need to apply the correct term to what we trans­late. The missile's blast radius was only 300 feet. Dissimulation is the closest term for what we are not to have along with our love, but it might not be in every­body's vocabulary. “Without hypocrisy” has its own particular niches but is readily under­stood so will appear in modern Bibles that are literal word-for-word trans­lations. The NIV is what they call a "dynamic trans­lation," idea for idea rather than word for word. The trans­lators here attempted to get the idea across without the acrobatic negative (“without.”) Many serious Bible students won't bother with dynamic trans­lations, paraphrases, and/or interpretive works like The Message. Some of us KJV-only types shun even the modern word-for-word Bibles as being too confusing. We receive periodic criticism from their users for not modernizing our­selves, although they them­selves might never think of using The Message or its ilk for serious study.

There's a bonus application, the verse, (1Cor. 11:10) “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” What­ever does that mean? Well, in this movie when Victoria decides not to have power (i.e. diadem) on her head, which would have been attained by letting the captain of the Diadema handle the radio communi­cation, the seamen on the boat don't sit around and ponder and debate, but they abandon ship post­haste before wrath from the sky falls on them. An inter­esting parallel is also developed when Gaby submits to a mugging, à la Eph. 5:21, having her ring stolen, but then tries to use that as an excuse not to submit to her fiancé, à la Eph. 5:22, to have power on her finger restored.

[Illya tries to put a ring on Gaby]

Gaby Teller: “We may be engaged, but I'm my own woman! Besides, I don't have a ring! It was stolen, remember?”

Illya Kuryakin: “A good Russian husband would go out early and get his fiancée a new ring, as soon as he could.”

The question of whatever can be meant by power on her finger is a moot point in this movie as the ring is also a bug and her "fiancé" a spy. The enjambment of mixing the earlier verse into the latter one, I have dealt with in earlier reviews and is beyond the scope of this one.

Production Values

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” originated as a TV series in 1964, developed by Sam Rolfe. The series lasted for four years (from 1964 to '68) and became sort of a cultural icon with its audacious theme of US-Soviet cooperation at the height of the Cold War. The off­spring 2015 film “” was directed by Guy Ritchie. Its screen­play was created by Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram, story development aided by Jeff Kleeman & David C. Wilson. It stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, and Jared Harris. Cavill and Hammer are well cast; they have great chemistry together. Vikander and Debicki are real knock­outs and good in their roles. Elizabeth Debicki makes an insidious main villain Victoria.

MPAA rated “UNCLE” PG–13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity. The film is beautifully stylistic, action-packed and always fascinating to watch even if it's hard at times to follow the plot. The retro '60s production design, costumes and hair take one back. The spies in this film, Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, are witty and smart. They dress in style and look like hunks. Cinema­tog­rapher John Mathieson employs split screens, crash zooms, rotating cameras and a splendid soft-style lensing. Periodic short flash­backs help us follow what's really going on. Comedic relief is sprinkled in sporadic­ally but not so much as to spoil it. Back­stories of both the main characters make them highly credible.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I found “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” enter­taining and engaging, although not to be taken seriously regarding period politics. There were spiritual lessons in it to be scoped out, as well. It was a good takeoff on the original series. It's a movie that won't leave you disappointed. ( DVD est. available Dec., 2015.)

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four and a half stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quoted is from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Print.

Marsh, George P. “Early English especially appropriate to the translation of the Bible.”
       Lectures on the English Language. London: John Murray, 1863. Print.
       ——available to read or download at www.bibles.n7nz.org.