Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Atomic Blonde

The last days of the Berlin Wall is the baseline for David Leitch's new cold war era spy film Atomic Blonde. The film opens with Ronald Regan's call to Mikail Gorbachev to tear it down with the final scenes taking place as champagne is sprayed on top of the structure as East Germans stream into the West.  In this setting we meet Lorraine Broughton ( Charlize Theron) top spy on Her Majesty's Secret Service plunged deep in an ice bath sporting a wicked set of bruises. She emerges to have a glass of Stoli on ice tub side before heading into MI6 headquarters to be debriefed on her latest mission. She's met by her boss Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA observer Emmett Kurtfeld (John Goodman) whose presence she protests.

The Berlin mission is recounted which gives the story a staccato like feel as the tape is paused for commentary. The fact that she's telling the tale means the viewer knows that Lorraine gets out of every jam to come ahead of time. The reel-to-reel rolls then Lorraine begins to speak on the record.  Her mission is to capture a secret list of all operating agents that includes their alias skills and allegiances. The holder is about to sell the information that will comprise every working government agent. Of course the Russian, American, and French want the list as well. Broughton's contact is Berlin Section Chief David Percival (James McAvoy) who's been in Berlin for 10 years, knows the ins and outs and has become a low-tech precursor of Amazon online in the city.

Leitch who co-directed John Wick shows again that he knows how to fill the screen with action. There is no one better at filming close quarters hand to hand combat, improvisational items at weapons and the up close and personal headshot. Again the narrative is questionable including many elements seen in past films: NOC List from the first Mission David Leitch, Sean Connery stating Take Me For A Ride upon being picked up by sinisters on his landing in Jamaica at the start of Dr. No.

The other driver of the production is a top list choice of 80"s songs that set the tone for scenes and serve to feed the plot. We are in Berlin in the late eighties so Falco's Der Kommissar and Nena's 99 Luftballons are a given. Mix in Depeche Mode, a couple of Bowie tunes, Peter Shilling's Major Tom and Public Enemy's Fight The Power the stage is set.

Charlize Theron continues the trend of strong female action roles as Agent Broughton following in the footsteps of her turn as Furiosa in the last Mad Max film and this years giant hit Wonder Woman with Gal Gadot. Theron fought to bring this character from Anthony's Johnson's Graphic Novel The Coldest City to the screen as evidenced by her top line producer credit. James Mcivoy is a crafty foil as Percival while little know Bill Skarsgard is very effective as Merkel, Broughton's personal contact in East Berlin.

Atomic Blonde is an effective action thriller. In this window action and not story drive a film. The lead acting performance all fit nicely into this space. Audience will find the piece an enjoyable two hours in the theatre and likely leave amazed at least two of the action sequences while they hum an 80"s song from the soundtrack that is stuck in their heads.

*** Out of 4.

Atomic Blonde | David Leitch | U.S.A. | 2017 | 115 minutes.

Tags: Berlin, MI6, KGB, CIA, Berlin Wall, French Intelligence, Defector, Double Agent, Spy List, Stolichnaya Vodka.

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