Film Review: Atomic Blonde

The blonde’s name is Lorraine Broughton, although in the watching I’m not sure this detail fully permeated. In fact, may of the details are best left unheeded. Charlize Theron dominates the grungy bubble gum eighties aesthetic in such a visually affecting way that it’s best not to ask too many questions, just let her do her thing. There’s a lot of plot, it’s quite plot heavy, but the joy of the film lies in its execution rather than its sometimes over dense content.

The style is visually beautiful. Charlize is the perfect muse for the fraying civic order of eighties Berlin. The turbulence at the western soviet border is seen to take on a physical manifest in Ms Theron’s increasingly battered form. She plays a MI6 operative in Cold War London, following the death of a fellow spy and the loss of a MacGuffin device, data on each double agent in Western Europe, she is dispatched to Berlin to regain control of the situation. Paired with James McAvoy’s David Percival, intrigue builds upon intrigue as we are led to question who is an agent, who is a double agent, and could anyone even be a double double agent?

Atomic Blonde is an action thriller. It handles its action much better than its thriller. This is perhaps unsurprising from a director who brought us John Wick. David Leitch films violence with a particular panache, it is those sequences of blonde on thug action that really elevate the movie. The film’s much lauded stairwell sequence contains all the thudding acoustics of body on stone to create all of the harsh verisimilitude of an abattoir. The sound is such that you can feel every grizzly desperate blow.

It is much to Charlize Theron’s credit that the action is sold with such conviction. It is the weight of physicality that David Leitch creates so effectively and which Ms Theron is able to execute with such aplomb. It is a tribute to her performance that scenes depicting an elegant slender Hollywood actress cutting her way through heavy soviet military personnel are delivered without irony. Her fighting style is clearly well considered, because, while Charlize takes some heavy knocks throughout, you never get the sense she is implausibility out-strengthing her bulky adversaries. Lorraine Broughton’s combat style relies more on unstinting ferocity and an adaptable application.

I am slightly agnostic on the soundtrack, however, which at times contributed snappily to Atomic Blonde’s pulp kitsch vibe, though at other times it created an odd juxtaposition with the film’s more clinical action. It took full advantage of the period setting to roll out the new soundtrack orthodoxy of toe tapping classics piped over popping visuals, Reservoir Dogs via James Gunn.

Atomic Blonde is a tidy little package of period spy action with a little too much thriller to not slightly compromise its cohesion. McAvoy makes the boldest attempt at holding the narrative together compellingly, however, a paired down period action movie might have better directed a more impactful Atomic Blonde punch. It is still a film with much to recommend it; David Letch is fast becoming the action director to watch.

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