Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Girl Week 2017: Atomic Blonde

Today is Day 3 of Girl Week 2017 and we're entering the spy game with today's entry.

Directed by David Leitch.
2017. Rated R, 115 minutes.
Charlize Theron
James McAvoy
Eddie Marson
Toby Jones
John Goodman
Sofia Boutella
Til Schweiger
Roland Møller

When an MI6 agent is killed in Berlin in 1989, shortly before The Berlin Wall came down another, Lorraine Broughton (Theron), is sent in undercover to find out what happened. She also has to try and recover a list of all the double agents that has apparently fallen into the wrong hands. It's on a piece of about outdated technology...hidden inside a watch worn by the murdered agent. Once there, she meets her contact David (McAvoy), he gets her into all the seedy places she needs to go and it's game on. However, there is one other thing. We actually meet Lorraine at the end of this mission, which apparently, hasn't gone as planned because she's being interrogated by a pair of higher-ups. One is from MI6, Eric Gray (Jones), and the other from the CIA, Emmett Kurzfeld (Goodman). A series of flashbacks ensue.

Aside from the violence, which we'll get back to later, the first thing that strikes us about Atomic Blonde is the striking look of the film. Imagine if everything is lit neon, but muted by fog and you've got the general aesthetic of this movie. It might sound tough to look at, but it's really not. It's distinctive in a good way. The rest of the cinematography is just as strong as Jonathan Sela gives us many beautifully framed shots. Indeed, a number of them hit us first as if they were stills before giving way to the action of the scene. This offers us and the character on the screen, most often the eponymous blonde, a moment of contemplation before we proceed. The effect is the subtle and welcome addition of depth to a film that requires none, but uses it wisely.

Now, back to that violence. Put short, it's gorgeously brutal. To expand a bit further, the camera is intently trained on the action and never misses a blow, or a grunt, for that matter. Most impressively, there never seems to be a punch pulled. the whole thing has a tremendously realistic feel to it causing us to recoil on numerous occasions. Choreography-wise, among 2017 releases that I've seen to this point, Atomic Blonde is only rivaled by John Wick: Chapter 2. That choreography and the cinematography come together to create a spectacular finale. It's a seven-minute long single take of our heroine taking on baddies in a hotel lobby/staircase. With everything I've already said about the fights in this movie, it should be understood that every moment of it is bone-crunching. That said, my favorite part of this is not any particular blow or move. It's that, eventually, our combatants are legitimately exhausted and only driving on fumes. This layer of authenticity just adds to the brutality and raises the stakes of the situation.

None of this would work without a command performance by Charlize Theron in the lead role. For those fight scenes, she brings more than enough physicality to pull it off. Similarly to the way her character's tiredness adds to the film, it also helps that dispatching henchmen never comes easy for her. Every time she comes face to face with one of these guys truly feels like a life-or-death situation. And she makes it work. Between fight scenes, her intensity never lets up. It's the quite moments, however, that make her portrayal work. Remember the moments of contemplation I spoke of? She makes them pay off with a lot of face-acting that is always perfectly played. Given the film's focus on action, this is a sure to be underappreciated performance and a worthy follow-up to her Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. Here, she's ably assisted by vets John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, James McAvoy, and relative newcomer Sofia Boutella, but this is clearly Theron's show.

Occasionally, the film does strain under the weight of too many story lines. There is a lot going on. Eventually, it all comes together and it all works, but it is a struggle, at times. Streamlining it a bit would have tightened things up and kept from burying the main plot as it does every now and then. Wrapping it all up the way it does is commendable, even though it's obviously a set-up for a possible franchise. I'm okay with that because this is a highly entertaining action flick that manages to feel both raw and polished at the same time.

Yesterday, for Girl Week...

Other movies I've reviewed that fits the Girl Week motif


  1. I really wanted to see this film in the theaters but it came and went like a lot of other films lately.

    1. Movies do come and go pretty quickly. That said, it actually did fairly well, raking in about $96 mil against a budget of $30 mil.

  2. I still haven't gotten around to this one yet and that's sad. It's making my way up my Netflix queue though!

  3. I had quite high expectations for this. The trailer looked great, everyone said it was great, but when I finally watched it I was disappointed. I absolutely loved the cinematography and the neon, but the action wasn't very exciting (Theron is great though) and the story was just too chaotic for me. And all those twists at the end? Not a fan of those either. (Full review is coming in a few days)

    Thanks for the link!

    1. I totally get your reservations on the story and the twists at the end, but I'll have to respectfully, but completely, disagree on the action. I loved the way it was choreographed, performed, and shot. Looking forward to full review.

  4. I missed this in the theatres as I miss so much now but it's in my queue when it comes out in a couple of weeks so I'm waiting to read this until then....but I'll be back after watching!

  5. I thought the story was weak but loved watching her kick butt. We saw it at SXSW in March with a full house, and Theron & McAvoy & director in attendance, so of course the audience was raucous, appreciative, and roaring approval the whole time. Wild!

  6. "Gorgeously brutal" is a perfect descriptor for this kick-ass movie. Charlize is one of my favorite performances of the year so far for all the reasons you said, and it sure is beautiful to look at. When I saw this, people straight-up applauded at the end of that one-take fight scene (and also laughed hysterically when the camera moved to capture Spyglass taping up his wound in the background) - it was truly glorious. I know people had trouble following the plot, but I actually didn't, even though it doesn't really resolve itself until literally the last second, which I weirdly liked. Like, it sent me out of the theater thinking about it, and after a few minutes I realized that it actually did work. Can't wait to get this on blu-ray and watch it again!

    1. Yes, that Spyglass moment was an awesome little touch. I didn't have any problems following it, either, but I acknowledge there was a lot to keep up with and that it might be an issue for some.

  7. I am wary about it because Sonia's review seem to hit on what i was thinking but I still want to see this film because I like some Whoop-ass