Atomic Blonde – 2017
Director David Leitch
Screenplay Kurt Johnstad based on The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweigher, Eddie Marsan, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Roland Møller
There have been a few efforts to make Charlize Theron into an action star. Some of them good, like Mad Max Fury Road, The Huntsman, etc. while others, like Æon Flux, weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. This time around, using the physics intelligence of David Leitch, a stuntman, action coordinator and half of the team that revived Keanu Reeves career with John Wick and John Wick 2, she’s doing the smart thing by not aiming high with her kicks.
Based on a graphic novel I will likely never read, Atomic Blonde is about the underworld of Berlin just before the end of the Cold War. There is a list that is compromised, double agents who kill other agents and cross even more agents and tons of carefully scripted, but altogether exhilarating fight scenes. Theron looks absolutely vulnerable, yet altogether plausible in a role that requires her to fight about 1/3 of the number that Reeves faced in the first John Wick film, maybe 1/5 that of the second.
The point to the film is not the plot. It really doesn’t matter what’s going on. There is absolutely no resonance when one of the guys in the briefing room threatens that the cold war could go on another 20 years because of the MacGuffin. We know the wall is about to fall, no matter what. Absolutely no one cares why Theron’s MI-6 Agent Lorraine Broughton is made to face the onslaught of men in scene after scene. The importance to the viewer is the originality of the backdrops, choreography and kills.
In this capacity, Theron has it in spades. The same feeling we have in Reeves’ films, Leitch brings into Theron’s performance. First, it looks like she’s doing her own stunts, and damn she looks tired about the same time you’d think being beaten about the body, head and neck would make one wear down. She trained extensively, even with Reeves, who was in the midst of filming the latter Wick film. She even cracked her teeth from clenching. Sounds like dedication, and it shows.
She’s not knocking people out with one punch, or anything along those lines of bull. She fights ferociously and dirty. She uses anything she can, hitting men repeatedly. Very few of her punches, while effective, are critical blows. This forces her to have to fight the same people at different times throughout sequences.
Every one of the fight scenes are finely attuned, while looking real, for the most part. I particularly enjoyed the fact that men she fought and severely wounded in earlier parts of the film found their way back for another round at later times.
What I didn’t enjoy as much were all of the interrogation scenes. Giving the Tarantino effect of showing the scenes out-of-order doesn’t do much for suspense when one sees which persons made it out of the fight scenes before they happen. A more inspired storytelling technique would have served everyone better.
McAvoy is okay as Percival, who is Broughton’s Berlin contact. We know he’s shady. The story never stops pounding this point through. I am not a huge fan of McAvoy at this point, and I suppose it may be that I find his recent trend of characters to have exposed instead of expanded his range. He’s fine, though, if you like him.
The rest of the speaking parts (read: those not getting a knife, kick or bullet from Broughton) are all unspectacular. If we aren’t seeing great fights, we’re being bored with exposition. It’s a trade that some feel is necessary. I think not. If anything, her experience on Fury Road showed that if you have a good momentum, you can thrive without being bogged down by the same story warmed over.
The soundtrack is loud, and occasionally fitting of the mood and the action. It’s a little on the predictable side, but I am sure there are some out there who haven’t heard multiple versions of 99 Luftballoons, Major Tom or Der Komissar.
In all, it’s a good film that could have been great. What motivates a woman so glamorous as Theron to continually put herself in the line of fire is a mystery to me. If she keeps at it with this kind of coordination, I won’t mind her trying.
(*** out of *****)