Thursday, July 6, 2017

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017) - Directed by David Leitch; Written by Kurt Johnstad; Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Bill Skarsgard.

By Kenny Howell

David Leitch switches from revenge (John Wick) to survival in this spy thriller set during the final days of the Cold War.

It's 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to come down. Tensions are high in East and West Berlin, but there is another problem in the spy community. There is a list out there that gives the names and information about every spy involved in Cold War espionage, and even outs a prominent double agent. There is also a man in East Berlin, known as Spyglass, who has the entire thing memorized.

When an operative is killed, MI-6 sends spy Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), to Berlin to retrieve the list. She is to meet up with a loose cannon of a spy named Percival, portrayed by the excellent James McAvoy (Split), because he can travel to both sides and knows just about everyone in Berlin. The story is told mostly in flashback as Lorraine recounts the previous 10 days to her superiors at MI-6 and CIA Agent played by John Goodman.

As soon as Lorraine lands in Berlin, she has been made by the KGB. Two men pick her up from the airport, and Lorraine's fight for survival begins. From there, she has to find out what exactly happened to the murdered agent while finding out who she can trust in the crazy German city on the brink of change.

John Wick was anchored  by nearly non-stop action, but Leitch steps slightly away from that into a more realistic, less over the top actioner. That's not to say that Atomic Blonde doesn't go pretty far as far as what it can get away with and still not seem like a cartoon. This is heavy on hand to hand combat, and may have one of the better fight scenes in recent years when Lorraine is trying to battle her way through an apartment to eliminate a group of men trying to take out an important asset to the mission. Leitch uses a hand held camera up extremely close to the action to plop you right in the middle of it, which is all the more impressive considering how well choreographed the scene is. The camera is almost dancing along with the fight as if it is swerving punches itself. It's exquisitely done, and helps bridge the gaps when the story may rely to heavily on action film tropes, or to fill in gaps when the story may not hold together perfectly.

Still, it's an achievement in itself, and with Theron brooding pure badass and a cool cold war style that mixes the harsh grays with the neon world of the 1980s, it makes all those small issues with the film disappear.

Atomic Blonde opens in theaters July 28.

Rating: ***

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