Sep 3, 2013

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Feature Film Officially Set to Begin Filming Next Week With Hugh Grant as Mr. Waverly

We've followed the various twists and turns in the road to make a feature film version of the Sixties TV classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for at least three years (when first David Dobkin and then Steven Soderbergh were set to direct, the latter with George Clooney starring), but it's been an even longer road than that. (As far back as the mid Nineties, there were rumors of a Quentin Tarantino version, and later Matthew Vaughn.) Things finally seemed to solidify somewhat in December 2011 when Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) came on board to direct, but even then it wasn't a smooth ride. We've followed the drama in the trades as various stars were approached and in some cases even attached (most famously Tom Cruise) before drifting away. Even as the final cast shaped up over this past summer, there was still no official announcement from Warner Bros. Today that changed. Today, the studio finally issued a press release officially confirming that filming commences September 9 on a Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) as Napoleon Solo, Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) as Illya Kuryakin and Hugh Grant as U.N.C.L.E. boss Alexander Waverly.

We've known for a while about Cavill and Hammer and Grant was announced a few weeks ago, but this is the first confirmation I've seen that Grant will be playing Waverly... and that's the first bit of casting on this project that really excites me! I'm certainly not up in arms or anything about Cavill or Hammer, but neither choice struck me as especially exciting either. This one does. I wouldn't have pictured Grant filling the shoes of the great Leo G. Carroll, but now that it's done I can totally see it. (Especially following Grant's heavily made-up appearance in the Seventies portion of Cloud Atlas.) Best of all, though, the press release also officially confirms that the film will be set in the 1960s. This was the case when Soderbergh was attached (working from a script by The Bourne Ultimatum's Scott Z Burns), but I was afraid no other director would have the chutzpah to set a modern action movie in the Sixties. Still, it looked in recent months like Ritchie was doing just that, and Hammer made allusions to the film being a period piece in interviews, but it's wonderful to have that officially confirmed. The Cold War setting is the aspect that has me most excited about this project. We've seen a comedic recreation of the most fertile period in spy film history in the excellent OSS 117 movies, but I, for one, can't wait to see a straightforward action spy movie set in that era but shot with modern techniques. (Assuming, that is, that this U.N.C.L.E. film is a serious movie and not a comedic take, like Starsky and Hutch.)

Ritchie is not using the Burns script, but rather one that he penned with his producing partner Lionel Wigram. Wigram and Ritchie produce along with John Davis and Steve Clark-Hall; one-time directorial candidate David Dobkin remains attached as executive producer.

Here is the plot description provided in the press release:
Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. centers on CIA agent Solo and KGB agent Kuryakin. Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the two team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The duo’s only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, and they must race against time to find him and prevent a worldwide catastrophe.
There are some details in there likely to alarm U.N.C.L.E. TV purists, but I'm thoroughly encouraged, personally. It makes complete sense for the American and Russian agents to come to U.N.C.L.E. from their respective countries' secret services. And as Wigram points out, this is a new take. "Guy and I have long loved these characters," he says, "and wanted to start from scratch with our own take and create a film steeped in the 1960s for today’s audiences." That sounds just fine to me. Beyond the origins, the plot sounds very much like it could come from an actual episode of the show, or from any number of spy movies produced during that decade. And that's as it should be. It sounds like it will involve the traditional U.N.C.L.E. rival THRUSH (the international criminal organization), and it sounds like it will involve an "innocent" (the TV show had a gimmick of teaming Solo and Kuryakin with a civilian - usually a beautiful woman - week after week) in the scientist's daughter.

Also confirmed in the cast are Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina), Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) and Jared Harris (Moriarty in Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes sequel). I really liked Debicki in Gatsby, and I've been a fan of Harris ever since his wonderful performance in the criminally underrated 1994 vampire film Nadja (a remake of Dracula's Daugher). Plus, he's now a Hammer star! Presumably Harris will be playing either the missing scientist or the villain... or possibly both, should those characters prove to be one and the same.


Le Samourai said...

Sort of off-topic, but I'm glad to know someone else both saw and enjoyed 'Nadja.' Elina Löwensohn is an underrated actress.

Tom said...

It would be nice if Robert Vaughn had a cameo.

Tanner said...

LS: Yeah, she was great! I remember seeing her pop up in A Very Long Engagement, but she didn't have much of a role at all.

Tom: I agree. I hope both Vaughn and David McCallum have cameos. But they have to be done right. Sometimes such cameos can work nicely, but other times they feel distracting.

Elliot James said...

I'm out on this one. I don't go to movie remakes of favorite TV shows; Wild Wild West, The Avengers, I Spy, Starsky & Hutch, A-Team, Get Smart.

Tanner said...

It's true that the track record for TV-to-movie remakes is not good, but I'm an optimist. I can't not be excited for a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie! If it turns out to be another Wild Wild West or Get Smart, so be it. We can forget about it and move on. It won't damage the original series. But what if it turns out to be a Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (took them four tries, but they got there!), an Untouchables, or, best case scenario, a Fugitive? It can happen!

spy bop royale said...

I know I'm a little focused on film scores, but that's what will make or break this for me. It needs kick-ass re-workings of the main themes throughout. No hip-hop, no rap, just no-nonsense knock you out of your seat U.N.C.L.E. music. Michael Giacchino would be my first choice after his handling of the Mission Impossible and Incredibles scores (That is if they don't actually ask Shifrin!). I think I'm more excited about this than I was about Skyfall!

Tanner said...

I agree; the score will be KEY! That's the main creative force I'm still waiting to hear about, and conspicuously absent from the press release. Zimmer really did an excellent job with Ritchie's Holmes movies, but I really, really DON'T want Zimmer on this. I feel like he would turn it into generic Zimmer-sounding music, like he did with Cavill's last movie. Also, I fear he wouldn't use the theme much, since he didn't use the M:I Theme much in M:I-2. I'd REALLY love to see Giacchino do it because of the two scores you mention (especially Incredibles!), and I'd like to see David Arnold do it, too, since he seems to be taking a break from Bond while Mendes is at the helm. (Then again, I could see him feeling a bit been there, done that, but he really HASN'T had the opportunity to do a SIXTIES spy score!) Mainly I want someone who still writes orchestral scores on board. Also, I'd love to see them work in some more themes from the show and particularly from the U.N.C.L.E. MOVIES besides just the main theme! That FSM disc of movie music is the best of the lot they released!

Bob said...

Would love to see the producers hire Shifrin. But a good score still won't help, if we get a film like the remake of 'The Avengers'.

I know Tanner, I need to be positive. At least the film will not have Mr. Cruise in it and cameos of Vaughn and McCallum would be fun!

Jason Whiton said...

cool news. i was thinking years ago that H Grant could do a good job bringing Danger Man to the big screen...He'd be great as John Drake. Intense and observant on the inside, charming in his cover role on the outside. maybe this will be the closest i get to seeing him in such a role.
jason (spy vibe)

Tanner said...

You don't need to be positive if you don't want to, Bob! :) All I'm saying is that that's the outlook I choose to take for the time being. But I totally understand the other point of view!

If Schifrin scored, wouldn't Jerry Goldsmith roll over in his grave? I don't think he ever forgave Schifrin for changing the time signature on his theme in Season 2!

Jason, it's interesting to recall that there was a fairly vocal fan lobby for Grant to play James Bond at one point, less than twenty years ago. (Personally, I never saw that.)

Bob said...

I didn't know that about Goldsmith and Schifrin. With Barry, Mancini, Goldsmith and Bernstein passing away, there are not many left of that generation of film music composers who composed that type of film score. Elfman did try his hand at it in the first M I film. Giacchino would be a great choice (I unabashedly love his John Carter score). I also think Marco Beltrami would be an interesting choice (I liked his updated 'spaghetti' western score to 3:10 to Yuma).

Over on MI6-HQ, there is a 'first plot synopsis' of the film. From the description, I can't tell if this would be made as a period piece.

Tanner, I grew up with the UNCLE, Avengers and Prisoner tv series. At the theaters, we had Bond, Flint and Helm. These movies and television have always influenced my life and I have to be positive and hope that we will continue to have productions the quality of films like Skyfall.

Jason Whiton said...

i agree, i couldn't see Grant as Bond. but he would have made a cool Drake, who sometimes played a softer cover role to mask his true intentions. i can really see Grant making that dynamic interesting. -Jason (spy vibe)