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Atomic Blonde (2017)
Director: David Leitch
After MI6 agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is shot and killed by a KGB agent in Germany and a watch he had concealing a list of names of every active field agent in the Soviet Union is stolen MI6 send in their top field agent Lorraine Broughton (played by Charlize Theron) into East Berlin to retrieve it and a man by the codename Spyglass who is thought to have originally stolen the list, as the list will reveal to them a double agent within MI6. Time is of the essence though as the year is 1989 and Berlin is currently in a volatile state of political and social change as communism is coming to an end and the Berlin wall is soon to collapse merging West Germany with the East. The plot of the film is told retrospectively in the form of a debriefing with MI6 and CIA with the events of the film having happened a week prior.
David Percival (played by an always brilliant James McAvoy) is Lorraine’s contact in East Berlin. Percival is an MI6 agent who has been stationed in East Berlin for ten years and as a result has grown somewhat eccentric or as Lorraine’s MI6 superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones) say’s when briefing Lorraine on her mission: “due to the extreme conditions of East Berlin David Percival seems to have gone somewhat native in order to survive” to which Chief C, head of MI6 (James Faulkner) replies “fucking feral is more like it”.
In Berlin with the clock ticking and not sure who to trust as Eric Grey said ‘reassuringly’ “trust no one” and with the KGB, CIA and MI6 all after the list as information is power Lorraine must wade through the increasingly chaotic and politically murky world of Berlin in 1989 to uncover the list and return it safely to London.
Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel by Anthony Johnson and Sam Hart called the ‘The Coldest City’ and was adapted to screen by American screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, who also wrote the screenplay for the 2014 fantasy war epic ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ which is also sourced from a graphic novel. The film also marks the solo directorial debut of David Leitch after co-directing the 2014 action film John Wick. Leitch’s directional contributions to John Wick can now be seen more clearly through the obvious parallels with Atomic Blonde. For one, it is clear Leitch has a talent for depicting fight scenes on screen. It is worth going to see this film just for the expertly choreographed fight sequences. You can almost feel every punch, kick and fall. One fight scene I felt must have made up a good fifteen minutes of the films running time.
Atomic Blonde features some really great performances from a stellar cast. Charlize does an excellent job as Lorraine Broughton. Excelling in portraying a cold mysteriousness spy Charlize manages to at the same time give the character moments of warmth and emotional vulnerability which adds a layer of depth and complexity to a character that might have otherwise come off a bit one-dimensional. James McAvoy, though perhaps not the most obvious casting choice against the tall actress, provides the perfect contrast to Lorraine’s tall cold women of few words with his performance as the lively fast talking unconventional David Percival- the pairing of these two talented actors does the film credit. John Goodman as a CIA agent working with MI6 and Toby Jones both gave in good performances as usual. French actor Sofia Boutella (who has been steadily adding a lot of high profile roles to her resume including Star Trek Beyond, The Mummy with Tom Cruise and now Atomic Blonde) as undercover French agent Delphine Lasalle who becomes Lorraine’s lover. Boutella delivers us a character that is sensual yet helpless. Lastly, young Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård turns in a lovable and light performance as Merkel a young German who is high up and influential within the East German youth movement who all have grown disillusioned with the East. He is Lorraine’s mission assistant as he knows the ins and outs of the city and how to navigate through the East and West sides undetected. I feel it is also important to mention that the location felt just as much of a character in the film as any living breathing character. Berlin set the tone and provided the perfect back drop for the characters and story, with its wild nightlife, it’s erupting socio-political climate, the chaos and dark seedy ambiance- to quote David Percival- “I fucking love Berlin”
Of course it is impossible to review Atomic Blonde without mention of its killer 80s soundtrack which is as kickass as its protagonist. There seems to be a trend lately in films placing a large emphasis on their soundtrack- King Kong: Skull Island featuring the biggest rock songs from the 1960s/70s, Suicide Squad which was perhaps one of the few merits of that film and most obviously in both Guardians of the Galaxy films and the new release Baby driver- both of which the soundtrack is integral to the plot because of the significance to the characters. Atomic Blonde can now be added to this list with its collection of 1980s hits- you could write a whole review just on the use of music in the film and the trailer (one the best trailers I have seen this year). The track list in these films provide an essential accompaniment to the storytelling process echoing back to the silent era of cinema when the music was a storytelling devise. The inclusion of a melancholy and poetic version of the 1983 anti-war song ‘99 Luftballons’ by the German band Nena works vividly in the film, used most effectively during a brutal interrogation scene in East Germany.
It does feel though that the makers of Atomic Blonde got a little carried away with the films visual style and making it sound and look cool that the plot seemed to at take a back seat seeming at times sluggish. However, despite a plot that is a little insubstantial and slow, I would say the filmmaker’s efforts into Atomic Blondes retro aesthetic and sound was not in vain. The films cinematography, editing and soundtrack with the strong performances of its cast Atomic Blonde comes together to provide an exhilarating immersive and sensory experience despite at times its lack of plot.
I would without doubt recommend going to see Atomic Blonde which is currently showing in cinemas.
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