Friday, 4 August 2017

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a dark and violent indie spy film directed by David Leitch and starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. Early on, the fact that the film is based on a graphic novel series (called The Coldest City) is obvious, but it becomes less obvious as the film goes on (for good or ill). Unlike Dunkirk, this action film has a complex cleverly-written story, full of twists and turns that I almost (but not quite) figured out (just the way I like it). Unfortunately, too much of the film was filler that had little to do with the story (but it’s an action film, so what can you expect?). 

Theron plays British super-spy Lorraine Broughton, who, like James Bond, works for MI6. Broughton is assigned to Berlin just before the wall comes down in November, 1989. Her predecessor has been killed by a KGB assassin after acquiring a list of agents from an informant named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). The list, contained in a watch, is now in the hands of the assassin. Broughton’s mission is twofold: retrieve the list and identify (and eliminate) a double agent codenamed Satchel.

As one would expect, things start to go wrong for Broughton the moment she lands in Berlin (the same thing happened to Bond more than once). Can she handle it (rhetorical question)? But things continue to go wrong after she meets up with her partner, David Percival (McAvoy), who is based in Berlin and has made contact with Spyglass. Things go even more wrong after Broughton makes contact with a French agent named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). And then they go wronger yet. As the threats against Broughton’s life intensify, the violence becomes more graphic and fatal. Of course, we know from the outset that Broughton will survive, because she’s narrating the story to her MI6 bosses (played by Toby Jones and James Faulkner) and a CIA agent named Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), who was also involved in the Berlin mission. We know Broughton will survive but we also know that something went very wrong with Broughton’s mission.

Theron, who has always been a favourite, is absolutely terrific as Broughton, making as good a female Bond as any actor could. McAvoy is excellent as well, and Goodman is always a joy to watch. The setting and atmosphere of Atomic Blonde, in terms of date in history, location, and the film noir feel, add a great deal to the story (I love spy stories set in Berlin) and the cinematography and score are both very good. The ending is more than satisfying despite some decisions that made me cringe.

Not all is perfect, however. I am not a fan of hand-to-hand combat, no matter how well it is done. If it gets graphic and nasty, all the worse. There is far too much of this kind of action in the film (and action in general, of course, but it is an action film, so it’s hard to complain too much). Because this is a dark R-rated spy film, I can also handle a fair amount of violence without too much complaint, but the violent action was still a bit too much for me.

What confuses me most about Atomic Blonde (and Dunkirk) is the critical response to these films. The biggest complaint about Atomic Blonde (which gets an average of only **+ from major critics) is either that the story is poorly written or that there just isn’t enough of it (personally, based on their reviews, I think a number of critics couldn’t follow the plot). The latter complaint resonates a little, but how then to justify the four stars for Dunkirk, which has little or no real story at all (other than the rescue of 330,000 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk). 

In the end, I found Atomic Blonde much more entertaining than Dunkirk and I’m giving it a solid ***+. My mug is up. 

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