Friday, December 01, 2017

"Atomic Blonde": brief review

"Atomic Blonde" (2017) is directed by first-timer David Leitch and stars Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Sofia Boutella. The film is an adaptation of a 2012 graphic novel titled The Coldest City; "Blonde" is a spy drama with elements cribbed from "John Wick," "The Bourne Identity," and "No Way Out." Most interestingly for me, the story takes place in November 1989, right at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall (I was at the Wall a week after the fall; there were shots of then-East Berlin in the film that conjured up decades-old memories). The plot, while convoluted in the way of most spy thrillers, is basically about an attempt by multiple agencies to retrieve a document known as The List, on which are the names of agents who are currently working in Berlin. The revelation of the names on The List could spell trouble on a global scale, so the Brits have sent their top agent, MI6's Lorraine Broughton (Theron), to enter the rat's nest of Berlin, meet a British contact named Percival (McAvoy), find The List, and keep it away from all other grasping hands. Things go sideways almost immediately as KGB agents immediately "make" Broughton, and soon it's more a matter of staying alive than of staying on mission.

I'm not sure what to think of "Atomic Blonde." It's apparently been well reviewed by many critics, but I found the dialogue too stilted, self-conscious, and writerly—a bit like listening to badly executed noir repartee. One of the producers for the film also worked on "John Wick," which may explain the gritty, bloody style of the fight choreography we see—choreography that didn't exactly grab me, I have to say, but this may be because the director was shooting for a certain level of realism. At first, I had thought I'd be in for an unrealistic, comic-book-style adventure, but the preview trailers for this movie were fairly misleading: Broughton gets pretty beaten up by the end; she's not an above-it-all, "Matrix"-style fighter. I also didn't think the story progressed all that coherently, but I did enjoy the amazing plot twist at the very end of the film, which came as a sort of double or even triple head-fake. If the rest of the movie leading up to that moment had been as fascinating, I would have truly enjoyed myself. As things stand, "Blonde" earns little more than a thumbs-sideways from me. If you decide to watch the movie, do it for the twisty-twist during the final ten or fifteen minutes.

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