Atomic Blonde (2017)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Action | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: David Leitch
  • Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman


The crown jewel of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5 )

    GRADE: B


    IN BRIEF: An action packed exercise about a secret agent going undercover, although with Charlize Theron as the lead, who wouldn’t notice?

    SYNOPSIS: It’s spy vs. spy with a female twist.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hrs., 55 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Charlize Theron literally slays it in David Leitch‘s Atomic Blonde, a high-energy post Cold War spy thriller proving that blondes do have more fun (and so will most moviegoers). The film is on a continuous loop, one action sequence after another, as the narrative follows our sexy female agent uncovering the traitor within her M16 unit.

    It is 1989, right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and some missing microfilm containing a list of agents has fallen into the hands of KGB. Lorraine Broughton (Ms. Theron) is sent on a dangerous mission to retrieve it, plus identify and kill a double agent only known as Satchel. Lorraine trusts no one, not even her British contact, Percival (James McAvoy) as she is immediately put in harm’s way while unraveling the mystery. The body count of double agents quickly adds up to double digits as the kills are skillfully scored to an 80’s pop soundtrack.

    Atomic Blonde is one very violent and bloody movie. But its many action scenes are choreographed with flourish and jaw-dropping in their stylish execution. Mr. Leitch, a former stuntman, knows his familiar territory well and stages his action with such a high degree of bravado in his solo directorial debut. (The highlight, by far, is a memorable sequence involving our heroine fighting numerous assailants in a tenement staircase that is photographed seamlessly by Johnathan Sela and brilliantly edited by Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. This section of the film is virtuoso filmmaking and amazing stunt work, sure to be remembered as a classic moment in action thrillers.)

    Written by Kurt Johnstad, the story is primarily just a mere background for the powerfully staged fight sequences. The plot loses some logical order as the film progresses with one too many implausible twist and our spy becomes more superhero than super human, surviving one peril only to almost directly fall into the next encounter. (One can see she remains human as she is battered and bruised in the course of her assignment. In fact, the only downtime set aside to establish depth of character or relationships is during some flashback episodes and some flashes of a naked Ms, Theron having her ice-cold dips in the bathtub to ease the pain. The gratuitous nudity is, no doubt, an appealing prospect. There is also an added lesbian subplot that doesn’t amount to much more than insignificant titillation). The filmmakers seem more interested in the fights and lingering on Ms. Theron’s sex appeal, a wise decision. They go for style over substance every time.

    The actors fill out their roles well, especially the drop dead gorgeous Ms. Theron who is perfectly cast as Lorraine. She brings her star presence to this venture and takes her former Mad Max crazed persona, adding the glitz and glamour of the retro 80’s to her chic character. This operative operates as a female Bond who knows (and shows) all the right moves. More importantly, the moviegoer completely believes that Lorraine could do these incredible things credibly due the Ms. Theron’s grace, beauty, and strength.

    Along for the ride are Mr. McAvoy (providing some needed charm in his underwritten role), John Goodman, Michael Marsan, and Toby Jones to bring an air of dignity to this espionage caper. But it is Ms. Theron’s show all the way (plus the hard working stunt crew).

    Relentlessly brutal and borderline monotonous, Atomic Blonde is escapist fare, far from unique or original. The film really doesn’t make much sense as the story plays out with triple cross identities issues, but it is all highly entertaining in a ultra-violent, retro vibe appealing, action-packed sorta way.

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  • Atomic Blonde is a confusing mess of double, triple, quadruple crosses, and so on and so forth. Logic doesn’t seem to have much to do with it. Historical reality is pretty much just blown out of the water. The plot floats on a bed of clichés from previous bad movies. It’s based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City, and I’ll bet the authors only did a minimum of research, and watched a lot of movies and then said something along the lines of, “That was cool. Let’s do that.” If you have any real interest in spy craft from this time period watch the movie Bridge of Spies. Don’t waste your money on this one.
    Kurt Johnstad is the screenwriter. Antony Johnson and Sam Hart wrote the graphic novel, on which the film was based. I don’t expect brilliant dialog in movies like this but this dialog took on a new range of poorly written. I have no idea what the plot was. This is no clear line or even “gotcha” at the end that allows everything to fall in to place. I still can’t figure out why some things happened because they weren’t linked well to the whole story. The screenwriting is shoddy work and the director, David Leitch, seems as if he’s trying to cover that fact up with as many violent sequences as he can. This is his background so it makes sense that he would go to what he knows.
    The actors, all of them respectable, could not act their way out of this poor script. Charlize Theron as Lorraine seems to want to beat the crap out of all the males in East Berlin and a sizeable number of West Berliners as well. She plays it with a cold, frozen face but that’s not acting. The depthless, one-dimensional characterization is boring. James McAvoy’s Percival isn’t any better. He seems incapable of feeling anything other than one emotion.
    Eddie Marsan plays Spyglass a character who is more property than human which is appropriate to the times. Toby Jones, John Goodman and James Faulkner are simply wasted. They serve the same purpose a comma does in a list. Sofia Boutella plays Delphine but she is more than just another spy. She and Theron make love. Why? No one knows other than the fact that there’s immature group who seems to think it’s hot to see lesbian sex. There’s no other reason for it in the plot. Everybody else is just stunt fodder.
    I give Atomic Blonde 1½ double crosses out of 5. The reason it’s not getting a 0 is because of the production values of the movie. Its locations look good and the use of the protests and marches that happened just before the Berlin Wall was taken down looked very good. Unfortunately, none of that had anything to do with the story so as good as it might have been, it didn’t help.

  • Atomic Blonde, based on Antony Johnson and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, is the first solo directorial effort from David Leitch, who co-helmed the equally hyperstylised action flick John Wick with Chad Stahelski (though only Stahelski was credited). Leitch, a former stuntman, continues to prove his prowess with staging viscerally kinetic sequences though unlike John Wick, which never took its foot off the accelerator, Atomic Blonde takes too many breaks from the action and often ends up grinding to an albeit always visually engaging halt.

    There is certainly no more atomic blonde working in the movies today than Charlize Theron, whose MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton is introduced emerging from an ice bath, her face and body awash in bruises. There’s never any doubt that Lorraine is an ice-cold warrior who trusts no one and who will take down any and all comers. Witness the calm efficiency with which she dispatches the two men who have come to drive her to her hotel in Berlin – one is disarmed before he has time to take two breaths and kicked out of the speeding car, the other barely gets a word out before the car overturns coming out of the tunnel. Not too long after that, she’s rappelling out of a window holding onto a rope she’s tied around the neck of some poor goon who’s just trying to do his job.

    Then there’s the highlight of the film, a sequence made to look like a single, unbroken shot that has her battling a whole slew of KGB agents à la Old Boy in a glamorously decrepit building in Berlin and ends with her driving in a car, the camera inside turning this way and that to show us the surrounding action. It’s a showstopper and a prime example of how the action itself is the narrative. Unfortunately, instead of following the streamlined approach to the story that served him and Stahelski so well in John Wick (man seeks revenge, mayhem ensues), Leitch and screenwriter Kurt Johnstad add elements that distract, none more superfluously so than the framing device that has Lorraine in an interrogation session with MI6 investigator Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Kurzfeld (John Goodman) explaining what went down during her mission in West Berlin.

    The mission concerns tracking down a KGB assassin who recently murdered an MI6 agent, from whom he stole a list containing the names and whereabouts of every British intelligence officer. The list, as Gray tells Lorraine, is “an atomic bomb of information that could extend the Cold War for another 40 years.” The KGB assassin is still in Berlin, so Lorraine must find him and retrieve the list before anyone else can. She’s reluctantly paired with the MI6’s man in Berlin, one David Percival (James McAvoy), who is all but certifiably unhinged and whose loyalties may have been compromised. Percival has access to an East German operative (Eddie Marsan), who has committed the entire list to memory and who is willing to trade his knowledge if Percival will help him defect. Also in the mix is newbie French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), who starts off surveilling Lorraine and ends up in bed with her.

    Set just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde revels in its period setting, perfectly capturing the neon-lit seediness of its environs and deploying a soundtrack filled with the likes of New Order’s “Blue Monday ’88,” David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire),” ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” and George Michael’s “Father Figure,” many of which serve as the musical backdrop to the film’s spectacular action sequences. Leitch reunites with John Wick cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who once again beautifully showcases Leitch’s complex, brutal, and often witty fight choreography.

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  • “You know those movies where the picture just starts to slow down… and melt? Then catch fire? Well… that’s Berlin.”

    What was the overall feeling after watching “Atomic Blonde”? For me it was a mixture of confusion and excitement at the same time. Confusion because of the complex story with a multitude of twists and spy related mumbo jumbo. To be honest, I always have that with this kind of movies. So you can assume that I’m not a big fan of espionage movies. Not even James Bond movies. Even though these story lines are rather straightforward and simplistic in my eyes. “Atomic Blonde” on the other hand is in a different league. At a certain point I didn’t know anymore what was going on and what role the main characters played. I even forgot the main goal. The only things I still could re-imagine in the end, were the fierce action scenes and the appetizing looking curves of Charlize Terron. Should all female spies in a movie use the same wardrobe as Terron did here, I instantly would become a fervent fan of this genre. There’s nothing so exciting as a blonde shrew, wearing sensual knee-length boots and sexy suspenders, who gives her male opponents a solid kick in their glockenspiel.

    Guess what. I was more excited about the soundtrack used here. Perhaps this was disruptive to some but personally I thought this was pleasant addition. Well, maybe it’s because I’m a hard-core fan of music from the 80’s. And I’m not talking about boys-bands or disco music, but the underground and alternative kind of music. Unfortunately, they had to choose the most annoying song from the entire Neue Deutsche Welle repertoire. During that period I often wished for Nena to disappear with her 99 air balloons beyond the horizon. It would have been way better to include “Stunde des Glücks” from Fehlfarben or “Schlachtet!” From Grauzone. But besides this weak moment, I was pleasantly surprised to hear “Cities in dust” from Siouxsie & the Banshees, “Cat People” by David Bowie and “I ran” from A flock or seagulls. In terms of mood, this musical framework certainly made for a positive feeling. In retrospect, I’ll remember this playlist more than the movie itself.

    It’s all about an ultra-secret list (hidden in a wristwatch) with names of spies who are actively working in the Soviet Union doing … uh … I suppose spy-work. The entire film is situated in dark Berlin of the 80’s, where the ultimate symbol of the cold war still stands. The Berlin wall. It’s in the shadow of this gray decor where this spy movie takes place. In this post-war city, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) tries to get the list back together with colleague spy David Percival (James McAvoy), who has his own agenda apparently. The fact there are other sharks in this spy-pond who are interested in getting that list, is something Lorraine experiences real soon. The entire story is displayed in flashback mode. The whole story is being told by Lorraine during a debriefing in the presence of Eric Gray (Toby Jones), some superior at MI6, and Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) from the C.I.A. What follows are some bad-ass action sequences that’ll thrill you. Unfortunately, these impressive, action-filled scenes are no guarantee to make it a memorable movie .

    Perhaps it was the intention to make a female “John Wick” spin-off. But unlike the latter, where action scenes followed each other in a breathtaking pace, this movie only contains three (sublime choreographed) violent and action-packed scenes. First the German Polizei notices that the color of their green uniforms is replaced by the color of emerging bruises and dripping blood. And as icing on the cake you’ll be presented with a damn elongated scene where KGB agents are being banged up pretty bad. Next you’ll see an intense car chase across Berlin. And then you’ll get a plot twist involving double agents and counterespionage shizzle. And that’s where I suddenly lost the thread. To be honest, that’s it in a nutshell. Even the lesbian it’s-supposed-to-be-a-hot scene wasn’t interesting enough to get me ecstatic. In my view, this was added just so the presence of Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) seemed functional again.

    In terms of acting, it was quite all right, although Charlize Theron impressed me more as Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road”. James McAvoy was sublime. But then again, I thought he was more convincing as the guy with a split personality in “Split”. Eddie Marsan, John Goodman and Toby Jones complete the rest of the cast and showed once again their acting skills. But despite the brilliant acting, the violent and furious action, the atmospheric images and a soundtrack which made me feel young again, I thought the story-line was incoherent, quite inconsistent and superfluous. You can’t call it the counterpart of “John Wick”. And for those who say this film is amazing because of the fact that it’s an action movie with a female action heroine in it, I suggest to look up these movies and re-watch them : “Alien”, “Terminator”, “Salt” or “Kill Bill”. You’ll also see an action heroine with giant cajones, who’s filleting the other sex (or species) without blinking an eye. But still, highly recommended.

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