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[Movie Review] Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Plot Summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Director: David Leitch

Writer: Kurt Johnstad

Runtime: 1h 55min

Main Cast:

  • Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton
  • James McAvoy as David Percival
  • Eddie Marsan as Spyglass
  • John Goodman as Emmett as Kurzfeld
  • Toby Jones as Eric Gray
  • Sofia Boutellas Delphine as Lasalle
  • Bill Skarsgård as Merkel

Review: by Mia

2017 has become a great year for women in film, particularly action film. Be it the Superhero genre or just plain blow-stuff-up action, women are showing that we can kick ass just as well as our male counterparts. When I first saw the Atomic Blonde trailer, I was excited to see Charlize Theron take on a combat heavy plot filled with spy mystery. I pictured Salt meets James Bond and was eager to get to a theater to see how she handled the role. Add on the fact that the film features a personal debuting actress of mine: Sofia Boutella and long time favorite James McAvoy, there wasn't much I could picture going wrong with this film.

Atomic Blonde is set in the tension preceding the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s. Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize, finds herself assigned to a mission that inserts her into an ongoing war of strategy and intrigue. Described by the film as “equal parts spycraft, sensuality, and savagery,” Lorraine steps up to the spy plate ready to deliver on every detail of her mission. The film immerses you in its own edgy perspective of 80s culture and spy lifestyle while also taking you down a Bond like plot towards the truth behind the mystery: who is the double agent? Who has the secret and priceless information that no agency wants sold on the black market?

The Veteran spy must find out who killed her associate and report back to her superiors with the vital information that he’d been assigned to acquire. In order to complete her mission, she must partner up with David Percival (James McAvoy) who has been the lead intel man on the two-man mission that led to the assassination of her associate. David has been undercover in Berlin long enough to have adopted much of the culture, long enough to have his superiors worried that he’s not as trustworthy as they’d like for a mission of this importance. Lorraine arrives and is immediately fighting for her life and her mission. She hunts down information, beats up competing spies, dodges stealthy tracking, and flips multiple cars during a freeway chase in true under the radar spy fashion (Bourne does it, Bond does it, and now Broughton does it too).

Lorraine must come out on top in a city packed with spies from every major agency in the first world, all while warring with her own mission to figure out who the double agent within their midst is. As she investigates the ties between spies and retraces the steps to locate the vital assets hidden within the city, Lorraine allies herself with Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) and a few other young and skilled intel gatherers that she can trust not to work for the enemy…sort of…maybe? This film blurs the line between enemy and ally until you aren’t entirely sure who you should be rooting for and who is the one you should trust to give you the real sequence of events. Naturally, we are inclined to believe Lorraine, who narrates the film from her seat within a debriefing with the upper management of both MI6 and the CIA. Still, even she turns out to be less than trustworthy once the storyline digs deep enough.

What I Liked:

I always look for good, believable, well-compositioned fight choreography in every action film that boasts a skilled combatant in its plot. This film wasn’t focused as much on technique as it was on pure human aggression. I loved it. You get real fight scenes, where a woman who has clearly been trained to injure quickly and effectively does everything within her power to take out men who are bigger, angrier, and better armed than her.

Theron sells her fighting choreography and leaves you cringing often with how she takes out her enemies. More importantly, you see the damage take its toll realistically on every injured character, especially Lorraine Broughton, who takes more ice baths than a week than the average person will in their entire lifetime. By the end of the mission (remember, Lorraine is narrating from the debriefing room), Lorraine is bruised, battered, and in serious need of an ice pack and yet she still looks ready to take out any unfinished business that might come her way.

The mystery and intrigue of this film lasts from start to finish. If you’re like me and can predict fairly well how a plot will develop, take comfort in the fact that there are plenty of major plot developments in this film that you will still not see coming. The film makes you wonder, it makes you try to piece together little bits of information and body language and conversations until you’re sure one person is on the same side as you only to find that they weren’t or you weren’t on that side at all!

James McAvoy brings his charm and intrigue to the film in David Percival, who is cunning, charismatic, and suspicious. He plays his fellow spies well and shows that he does have the skill to come out on top in Berlin, if not for the presence of other alliances, which allow the other spies in Berlin to stay at pace with him to the very end. Delphine is a seductive, yet innocent addition, who steals a place in Lorraine’s heart despite her best efforts to maintain her cold and detached style with everyone she meets. The relationships between the characters are realistic and suspicious, lending further to the intrigue within this spy film.

What I Didn’t Like:

Atomic Blonde is very deeply buried in references to the culture and current events of its setting. This is executed very well and received positive reactions from many within the theater as we followed the movie along. However, it was a bit difficult to grasp moments of humor and wit due to my ignorance.

The film itself didn’t fail here, but it did make some instances where I should’ve been able to get to know a character or development better difficult in a way that I don’t the patience for while trying to piece together a movie mystery. Don’t spoon feed me your film, but also don’t make it hard to learn from context alone.

Still, this one failing is easily remedied by studying up on source material and cultural references of the time. Get ready to learn something new if you haven’t previously immersed yourself in the spirit of the 80s!

Images Courtesy of IMDB

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