Movie Review: “Atomic Blonde” punches above her throw weight

Atomic Blonde (2017)

With its adoring close-ups, lingering shots in the bath, repeated stripping and endless designer costume changes, “Atomic Blonde” plays like a vanity project for its producer-star, willowy model turned Oscar-winner Charlize Theron.

There is no cell phone application for generating generic spy movie dialogue, but if there was, this film could be an ad for it.

“Berlin is a cruel mistress…Berlin is like the Wild West…Berlin is a small town. I am sure our paths will cross again…Maybe we can make some sort of arrangement…I’ve read your file…Shall we begin?”

Yeah, it started life as a comic book, but come on.

The plot’s twists are foretold too far in advance for there to be much in the way of real suspense. The soundtrack for this set-in-1989 thriller is packed with overly-appropriate ’80s pop. You know a spy picture in ’89 Berlin will have “Der Kommissar” and “99 Luftballoons.” But setting a chase to “I Ran,” covering a secret conversation with “Voices Carry?” The songs match the situations so on the nose they become self-mocking.

But all that said, ALL of it — the short/shorter/shortest skirts, the bottomless shots of Stoli and clouds of cigarettes and hailstorms of bullets — pays off because Theron wills it so.

They’re selling this cut-and-paste parody of a spy thriller on its epic fights, and Theron in the title role takes and delivers beatings in visceral, pulse-pounding, eyes-averting stab-him-with-a-corkscrew bloodbaths.

After which, her body tattooed in bruises, our Atomic Blonde eases herself into a nice ice bath.

So yeah, we buy in.

British Agent Lorraine Broughton is sent to Berlin just as the Wall is about to come down. There’s an East German Stasi agent (Eddie Marsan) ready to defect with a vast collection of names of agents, double-agents, something or other “atomic” in its explosiveness.

Her contact in town is hard-drinking, trade bottles of Jack Daniels for information
Agent Percival (James McAvoy doing his psycho/gonzo/dissolute thing).

But the best laid plans “gang aft a-gley,” as the Scottish poet said. We’re privy to the interrogation of Agent Broughton, bruised and bloodied, by her controller (Toby Jones of “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy”) and a CIA watchdog (John Goodman). This grilling frames the film and leads us — entirely too easily — to understanding what went wrong.

atomic2

Stuntman (“Fight Club,””300”) turned director (he had a hand in “John Wick”) David Leitch proves he was the right guy for the job with every furious blast of onscreen mayhem.

The car chase is comically over-the-top, but at least the endless succession of flips and crashes are tactile and real — done by stuntfolk.

And the brawls put the beanpole-thin Theron into some of the toughest fight choreography ever staged with a woman. Theron commits, and huge chunks of these punchouts/shootouts are delivered in long-takes, no edits to protect the star or hide the presence of a stunt double.

The confrontations are so in your face that you may want to don an icepack when you get home. I certainly did.

The action beats are such spectacles that they’ll make you laugh. Not that there isn’t the odd funny line.

“David Hasselhoff is in town…Berlin is truly DOOMED.”

Not really, but you could see how they might think that back in 1989.

In between the fights, we’re reminded of how beautiful Theron is by those lingering, hair-over-one-eye close-ups, the Olivia-Wilde-in-“TRON” perfect makeup, the wondrous selection of fishnet stockings and some pretty serious grappling with the fetching Sofia Boutella (“The Mummy”) as a possible rival, or friendly agent.

The ending feels written by committee, and that laundry list of other quibbles can take you out of the picture. But the camera puts you right in the fights, in the car and facing down the barrel of a gun with our heroine.

And Theron and Leitch give this lightweight LeCarre the heft to punch well above its atomic throw-weight.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella

Credits:Directed by David Leitch, script by Kurt Johnstad, based on the comic book series “The Coldest City” by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart . A Focus Features release.

Running time: 1:55

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8 Responses to Movie Review: “Atomic Blonde” punches above her throw weight

  1. The Devil says:

    I love how the creators didn’t use heavy music in the best fight scenes and then no music in the very best. It made the struggle interesting. This might not be such a bad year for movies. “Dunkirk” was amazing and there was a lot to like about “Baby Driver.” “Baby Driver” seemed like a collage of a lot of different movies, but in a good way. This movie I thought was going to be doomed by bad taste in the beginning, but it surprised me as it moved along. It does have the element of surprise going for it. This year for movies might not be too much torture for you, but you still have to get through “Justice League.” Great review.

    • When the music is so annoyingly on-the-nose — Tom Hanks saying, “Ah’m goin’ to San Francisco,” and “If you’re goooooing to San Fran-CIS-cooooo” and similar bits all through “Forrest Gump” or “Atomic Blonde,” it’s redundant and unimaginative.

  2. The Devil says:

    I think the best sound design is “Taxi Driver” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “Time After Time” is also a good one for sound design. “Taxi Driver” is my favorite. I like it when Travis is looking into his coffee cup and how the background voices fade out and it captures perfectly what happens during insomnia. I still love the movie. One thing I’m not sure if you are annoyed by it is all the thunderous booming and sucking sounds during previews. They all sound the same. I think “Atomic Blonde” could have been better if it had more parts like the hallway fight scene. The car chase was really great. I just don’t think I could watch the movie again. A good movie I think can survive a third viewing. It’s too much like a Miami Vice episode in my opinion. There also is a movie coming out that looks like it is a rip off of Altered States. You should write a piece on sound design clichés. I’d love to read it.

    • “The Conversation” is another good example of that. But that’s a different topic — not “score” but “Sound design.” Did you see/HEAR “Dunkirk”? That takes you inside sinking ships and rattling flimsy airplanes. Stunning to listen to. “Sound Design cliches” — like, the screech of an eagle whenever characters venture into the woods, the wail of sirens at the end of a thriller denoting cops who arrive just AFTER the nick of time? That’s a good idea. Thanks.

  3. The Devil says:

    I mean Travis is looking into Alka Seltzer or something. Sound design is important.

  4. The Devil says:

    “Dunkirk” was the best I’ve watched so far. The stories within is what I enjoyed the most. I took an audio art class and we watch “The Conversation.” That is one great movie.

  5. The Devil says:

    One of the “Borne Identity” movies has something funny. I think it’s called a pathetic fallacy. Matt Damon say’s: “This ends here.” And it’s followed by thunder.

  6. The Devil says:

    You don’t have to post these comments. I probably misspelllled everything. It was good communicating with you on the importance of sound design.

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