Our final Soderbergh U.N.C.L.E. footnote

Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh

We watched the Steven Soderbergh-directed (and photographed and edited under aliases) Side Effects because it was the movie he did after dumping a film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in late 2011.

Overall, we’d give it a B grade, with maybe an A after a slow first 20-25 minutes. It was one last chance to get an idea of the U.N.C.L.E. that never was. While we had a better time than we expected (after the director’s Contagion in September 2011 and Haywire in January 2012), we still had the feeling that, despite a long drawn-out soap opera, things ended up for the best.

Among the reasons: This was one more chance to view Channing Tatum, one of the actors whose name was floated as a Napoleon Solo for Soderbergh. He’s a hot star now but…no thanks. He even shows up in one scene in a tuxedo (not uncommon for Solo on the 1964-68 television series) but he looks more like now-retired NFL linebacker Ray Lewis than Solo.

Also, Side Effects was written by Scott Z. Burns, who, based on recent comments, we’re not sure really gets what makes U.N.C.L.E. tick. While we don’t expect any future U.N.C.L.E. movie to be a clone of the TV show, it still helps to have an idea of the core ideas. Put another way: The various Marvel Comics movies that have come out since Iron Man in 2008 aren’t clones of the original comics, but they successful take the basics and update them well.

Essentially, Side Effects is like a theatrical movie version of Law & Order, the 1990-2010 television series where many episodes look simple but run into twists. Except that Side Effects includes a Rooney Mara-Catherine Zeta-Jones love scene that you didn’t get on the TV show. Meanwhile, Jude Law is effective as a psychiatrist who becomes a dupe in a murder plot.

Finally, watching Side Effects provides another footnote — to Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film. The score is by Thomas Newman, who scored an Oscar nomination for his Bond work. Newman’s Side Effects score is much closer to his past work than Skyfall was. Newman’s music for Side Effects contain the Hans Zimmer influence from director Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies.

UPDATE (Feb. 10): Side Effects finished a distant No. 3 in the U.S.-Canada box office for the Feb. 8-10 weekend with an estimated $10 million in ticket sales, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO. The No. 1 movie was the comedy Identity Thief with an estimated $36.6 million.

What Soderbergh’s U.N.C.L.E. would have been like

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: still dormant.


Scott Z. Burns, who wrote a script for director Steven Soderbergh for a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 2011, has told COLLIDER.COM some details about the aborted project, which would have been set in the 1960s.

An excerpt:

Burns: Yeah, Steven and I both loved it because (U.N.C.L.E.) was a way of doing a spy movie and setting up a really interesting character that was fascinating to us, because U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t affiliated with the US or with Russia, it was this great cold war thing. And now spies have all these great toys but we would have to take some of them away, because it was the 60’s and there would be different plots because you didn’t always have a cell and you couldn’t solve problems with some of the things now.

So we had this idea based on something happening in the real world…there was a thing that happened with a B-52 bomber in like 1966 or 1967 over Spain where it was refueling and there was an accident and it lost its payload and three bombs fell on Spain and the Atlantic, and they hadn’t been armed, but …contained warheads.

So we scattered plutonium all over a farm field in Spain, the second bomb was recovered, but the there was a period of time when the third bomb was laying on the floor of the Mediterranean and no one could find it and so it was the race to find it that was what our episode was about, which I thought was going to be really, really cool and I’m bummed we didn’t get to do it.

Burns also told Collider that the project “was pretty close to going. I think we were all shocked that it didn’t happen.” Instead, Soderbergh quit the project.

This came out because Soderbergh, 50, wants to retire from directing. After U.N.C.L.E. crashed, he and Burns did a medical thriller called Side Effects, which comes out Feb. 8. Thus, publicity for Side Effects is underway.

Soderbergh’s last directing project, is a made-for-HBO movie about Liberace. Meanwhile, there have been no signs that Warner Bros., which has the rights to the 1964-68 U.N.C.L.E. television series, is doing anything with the property soon.