The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on ATOMIC BLONDE (2017, 115 minutes, R)
The Quick of It -
You want to know how to make an exciting action film? Get an actor everyone loves, a script that has some ‘punch’, and a well-seasoned action director… or the next best thing. Oh, and make it a period piece when action films were dominating the box office.
ATOMIC BLONDE has everything in place to succeed. To start, Charlize Theron takes lead and puts everything on the line. Everything… Even having a stellar career that commands respect, she did not baulk at showing some… or a lot… of ‘skin’. She plays Lorraine Broughton, a British Intelligence MI6 agent sent into East Berlin to help recover a list that can out entrenched spies and to get a Russian Stasi defector past the Berlin Wall’s military forces. This is also taking place on the eve of the Wall’s fall, November 9, 1989. As you can imagine, things do NOT go to plan.
The second component is having a strong script. ATOMIC BLONDE is based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’. The Cold War was the pinnacle of spy tradecraft and the top-notch agencies depended on ‘human intelligence’ over technology, a true artform that should never be taken lightly. There are a number of twists, again highly typical of 80’s flicks, and some seemingly unnecessary. But again, we are watching a Cold War era film. The odd thing is that I felt so wrapped up in the film, I never thought that there may be a ton of other films and TV shows with similar storylines.
One may not say the film is a fresh take on spy films (outside the fleshy scenes), but it was entertaining. This only proves the third element a proven requirement for any action film – someone who understands what ‘action’ is all about at its core. The fighting choreography was almost on par with JOHN WICK. That would be because director David Leitch has a stuntman background, and is an uncredited co-director to JOHN WICK… and soon-to-be director of DEADPOOL 2. The cinematography and use of warm and cold color lighting brought out the graphic novel feel while putting a consistent, atmospheric presence throughout.
For Theron, there was no trivialized woman empowerment on show with her fighting scenes. Yes, she kicked major ass but she suffered just as much. Also, you can see her technique accounting for her lighter build when fighting trained men much stronger than her. She uses leverage, hard impact points like elbows and knees, and various surrounding objects to get the job done. And it feels natural and effective.
The rest just seemed minor once beyond Theron’s mission. The French connection is one hot French Fry and should not be dismissed, but it only appeals to the 80’s love of sexual explicitness in films. Unfortunately, Sofia Boutella (of THE MUMMY reboot) comes off seeming out of her acting depth, as well as her spy-depth as a newly placed French agent. Even with a small part, I couldn’t buy in to her character. James McAvoy is one hell of a bastard and the only other redeeming piece to the spy insanity as it unfolds. He plays David Percival, an agent who went native from being too deep in the East-West turmoil. A true survivalist, if you ask me.
ATOMIC BLONDE is a purist tribute to 80’s action films without compromising the cinematography or writing that plagued action films during that decade. If you’re an 80’s brat, you are consistently filled with nostalgia and recall those crazy moments in history, making this a must see.