Atomic Blonde

atomic-blonde-rev Atomic Blonde  (2017)    Focus/Action-Thriller    RT: 115 minutes    Rated R (sequences of strong violence, language throughout, some sexuality and nudity)    Director: David Leitch    Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad    Music: Tyler Bates    Cinematography: Jonathan Sela    Release date: July 28, 2017 (US)    Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Bill Skarsgard, Til Schweiger, Roland Moller, Barbara Sukowa, Sam Hargrave, James Faulkner.

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 I briefly considered starting my review of Atomic Blonde by talking about Charlize Theron’s character being a lesbian. Then I thought, why should I? While the trailer makes a big deal of it, the movie itself doesn’t. It’s just part of who she is, a female spy who prefers women over men. She has a couple of hot scenes with co-star Sofia Boutella but there’s nothing shocking or exploitative about them. We’re not talking Basic Instinct or Bound here. In other words, it’s NOT the reason you should see Atomic Blonde.

atomic-blonde The top reason to see Atomic Blonde is that it’s actually a good movie. It’s also the last of the summer movies that I was really excited about. Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, it’s a solid kick-ass spy actioner starring Theron (Monster) as Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 agent sent to Berlin during the Cold War to find out who murdered a fellow agent. Theron is totally bad ass in this flick!

 The action is set in November 1989, just days before the Berlin Wall came down. After her colleague is killed by a rogue KGB agent, Broughton is sent to Berlin to retrieve the wristwatch he was wearing at the time of his death. It contains a microfilm listing every active agent in the Soviet Union as well as the true identity of a double-agent known only as “Satchel”. From the moment she arrives in West Berlin, bad guys working for an illegal arms dealer (Moller, Land of Mine) keep trying to kill her. She takes down two before meeting her main contact, Agent David Percival (McAvoy, Split), who’s become disillusioned with the whole spy game.

 One of the main plot points involves sneaking a Soviet defector named Spyglass (Marsan, Sherlock Holmes) out of East Berlin. He’s the one who stole the microfilm; he’s also memorized the entire list making him a valuable and dangerous asset. Meanwhile, Broughton becomes involved with Delphine (Boutella, The Mummy), a seemingly naïve French agent who may or may not be trustworthy.

 Atomic Blonde is told in a series of flashbacks form with Broughton recounting her mission to a trio of interrogators: her commanding officer Eric Gray (Jones, Captain America), CIA chief Emmet Kurzfeld (Goodman, Kong: Skull Island) and MI6 chief “C” (Faulkner, Underworld: Blood Wars) observing from behind a two-way mirror. This is where Theron really gets to act. Her calculating stare and take-no-BS body language say so much about her character. She’s intelligent, tough and very easy on the eyes. She also likes to drink vodka on the rocks. We don’t know much about her background yet Theron gives her character great emotional depth beneath her chilly, tough chick persona.

 The thing that impresses me most about Atomic Blonde is the fight scenes. In a time when most filmmakers favor a choppy, overedited style that really doesn’t allow the viewer to make sense of the action, David Leitch (co-director of John Wick) gives these scenes a more natural flow by employing a hand-held camera style and filming them in one continuous take, not unlike Paul Greengrass. The fights are violent, brutal and exciting. There’s one great scene where Theron takes on a group of baddies in an East Berlin theater showing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). The vintage 80s soundtrack, which includes songs by New Order (“Blue Monday”), Nena (“99 Luft Balloons”), Re-Flex (“The Politics of Dancing”) and David Bowie (“Putting Out the Fire” from 1982’s Cat People), is totally awesome. More importantly, the songs fit the action perfectly. It’s not one of those “greatest hits” deals.

 The only real problem with Atomic Blonde is that the plot is kind of convoluted. At certain points, you realize you’re enjoying the action without really understanding what’s going on. It all makes sense in the end though. The movie even has a couple of neat twists that I wouldn’t dream of giving away. The important thing is that Atomic Blonde is solid, summertime, kick-ass action flick with a hot heroine and cool action scenes (including one really good car chase). I love the Cold War setting; it gives the movie a retro feel. I’m old enough to remember a time when a wall separated East and West Berlin. I remember seeing then-President Reagan on TV saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I even remember Kurt Loder reporting on it on MTV. Much of this will be lost on the teens in the audience but they’ll love the action aspects. I think Atomic Blonde is one of the most fun movies of the summer.

 e’           nvnvnvn

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