Thursday, August 10, 2017

Atomic Blonde

ATOMIC BLONDE (David Leitch, 2017)

Set in 1989 prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, ATOMIC BLONDE takes MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to the divided German city in search of Satchel, a spy who is double crossing the West to work with the Soviet Union. His latest collaboration with a KGB officer resulted in a British agent’s death and the theft of a sensitive list that names all of the spies secretly working in the USSR. Lorraine is tasked with killing Satchel, retrieving the list, and helping with the defection of Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), a Stasi officer who initially stole the list to give to the West and who has it memorized.

Lorraine’s cover is blown as soon as she lands in Berlin. Although she’s more than capable of taking care of herself, she gains information and assistance from David Percival (James McAvoy), a fellow MI6 agent who has been working undercover there for a long time. Meanwhile, French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) is keeping close tabs on Lorraine.

ATOMIC BLONDE shares a lot of similarities with JOHN WICK, which comes as no surprise as director David Leitch was an uncredited co-director for the Keanu Reeves revenge film. Both feature staggeringly talented and stylishly dressed killers cutting swaths through underworlds in dark cities edged with neon. Lorraine works for the government while John is an assassin for hire, but otherwise they’re characters cut from the same cloth. Leitch exerts great effort to make the action and fight scenes legible. The violence is choreographed and edited to appreciate the viciousness of it, but the action isn’t just a demonstration of sheer power. Equal importance is placed on admiring the elegance in how the hero moves and how she looks in her fashionable clothes.

The action centerpiece comes late in ATOMIC BLONDE with a long sequence constructed to seem as though it is one unbroken take. Lorraine engages in hand-to-hand combat with some bad guys and then hops into a car for a perilous drive through the city. Even if one can tell where shots are stitched together, this stunning section cranks up the excitement so that there is more investment in marveling at what’s happening than how they pulled it off.

As in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Theron proves herself to be a dynamic action star. Her long lines lend aesthetic grace to the action, and her physicality drives home the force. Leitch employs dark, brooding, modern rock hits to complement the emotional coolness that Theron channels from French film noir. Lorraine is not a great character, but ATOMIC BLONDE hands Theron a role that capitalizes on that je ne sais quoi that differentiates movie stars from other actors.

ATOMIC BLONDE’s plot is needlessly complicated, especially as the espionage intrigue delivers little in the way of surprises. Leitch devotes more energy to developing the atmosphere. While ATOMIC BLONDE coasts on touring through the chic and dingy corners of a city that will soon be upended, soaking up the grimy pleasures of this setting with a natty heroine as a guide satisfies.

Grade: B-

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