*MAY NOT BE A REAL BLONDE
Review by Paul Preston
In Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent working undercover during the late ‘80s who is called on to track down a list of double agents that, if exposed, could prevent the Cold War from ending. Well, this sounds slightly exciting, but another NOC list? Since 1996’s Mission: Impossible, it feels like there have been many elusive NOC list movies. And the first third of Atomic Blonde doesn’t help rouse more excitement as Lorraine learns of the death of a colleague, is sent to Berlin to meet with an embedded agent (James McAvoy) and a young French agent as well (Sofia Boutella). The whole thing gets a little murky but fear not – the second half of this movie brings everything home quite spectacularly.
One way to make convoluted plot details interesting is to have John Wick co-director and accomplished stunt coordinator David Leitch direct your film, so while the characters bang out plot, at least it’s gorgeous to look at. If you’ve seen the trailer, you can see Leitch has picked a style for his movie and he’s gone all in. He’s given Theron choice outfits and a glib demeanor to accentuate the cool factor, and soaked the whole adventure in a bluish hue. He gets flashy with his camera, but never annoyingly so (I’m pretty tired of those action movie shots that follow a bullet, arrow or cannonball through the air – Leitch steers clear of those, thankfully) and not for nothing, there is great use of ‘80s music. All this, and some early action sequences keep things clicking when the storyline gets tangled.
Just past the movie’s halfway point, Lorraine has to extract a Soviet defector from East Berlin and that leads to an outstanding action sequence that starts up and down a staircase and continues in a car chase. It is nothing short of stellar, put together with inventive camerawork, unbelievable stunts and a small hint of visual effects. It seriously is THE action sequence of the summer movies. Great work by Leitch, John Wick fight coordinator John Valera and the stunt team.
From that sequence on, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (pulling from the graphic novel source material The Coldest City) makes good on everything the story has laid out up until then. Everything that was muddy becomes clear and anything that was routine has a satisfying payoff of, and I think I’m right in this description – TRIPLE crosses.
Theron is more than up to the task of taking on a full-on action role (after being wasted in the likes of The Fate of the Furious). As I’ve mentioned, she’s glib, with a detached sense of calm whether she’s delivering information or a stiletto to the throat. This can sometimes be tiresome (see Boyd Holbrook’s villain in Logan, who seems unfazed by ANYTHING. EVER.), but she’s often up to something when she acts cagey, and the action sequences aren’t so overly-stylized to where she remains composed then, too. When she gets hit, she gets rattled, and she has to think on the fly and we get to see that, which is a needed jolt to what is otherwise her character’s stoicism. James McAvoy continues a year of good performances (after a great turn in Split) with a brash and unpredictable turn as agent Percival. Toby Jones and John Goodman are expectedly good as MI6 and CIA execs questioning Lorraine about this whole affair, providing a framework for flashbacks that tell the story.
Like the series of Luc Besson-produced movies of the last decade (Columbiana, Taken, Three Days to Kill), it looks like David Leitch is carving a look and feel for his films. I hope he never drops it. His thing works.
Directed by: David Leitch
Release Date: July 28, 2017
Run Time: 115 Minutes
Distributor: Focus Features