“Remember, trust no one.”
Director David Leitch (John Wick) showcases the amazing stunt work craft as Charlize Theron continues her blockbuster streak as the undercover special agent Lorraine Broughton in the Cold War spy film Atomic Blonde.
Set mainly in Berlin during 1989 at the end of the Cold War, Theron is the worthy centerpiece that focuses on action, intelligence and the spy world. Much like the world Leitch constructed in John Wick, this “world run on secrets” is bleak, dangerous and filled with death.
Broughton instructs others in the field and willing to help when she can. Theron also co-produces this film, which could easily launch a new film series. In this installment, she addresses a double agent threat as well as a secret agent list that could do serious damage in the wrong hands. Theron’s hands damage plenty in impressive gunplay and even more impressive fisticuffs against multiple baddies.
Her escape and evasion tactics also work well and she demands respect. “No one thought to tell me,” she says easily asserts herself and reinforces her self-reliance amid extremely challenging circumstances.
Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (300, Act of Valor) focuses on the action in the 115-minute plot, especially since he also has experience as an assistant director and key grip. He includes varied timeline changes, mainly between East and West Germany in the city of Berlin and still terms like “Allied” in the character dialogue as historic events enhance the screenplay not overshadow it.
Audiences should pay close attention to perspective. Audiences get the essential story framework then must observe who is telling the story and what their motives are as this action thriller progresses.
Based on the 2012 Antony Johnston and Sam Hart graphic novel The Coldest City from Oni Press, Atomic Blonde has a few obvious continuity mistakes (e.g. radio play button pushed in then shown not pushed in right before destroyed) that distract from the tense scenarios and visceral action sequences.
Most audiences will squirm in their seat, especially during one amazing single-shot sequence that is only bested in the knife struggle between two opposite side WWII soldiers in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Audiences feel the exhaustion. They feel each punch thrown as the character fight for survival.
“Berlin has its own set of rules,” says James McAvoy who makes a great co-lead as David Percival and Eddie Marsan (Hancock) also stars as Spyglass. Veteran German actor Til Schweiger (This Means War, Inglourious Basterds) plays the Watchmaker and Sofia Boutella plays Delphine Lasalle – both limited, but important roles that this reviewer wanting more from these two actors.
Like Theron, Boutella current has an impressive box office streak going (Star Trek Beyond, The Mummy, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and deserves proper credit for her acting and her physical abilities that are unfortunately overshadowed by the plot’s sexual elements. Not enough character development for a meaningful relationship here…just like male counterparts in similar films with objectified characters.
John Goodman plays a high-ranking CIA agent manager and Toby Jones plays British agent superior Gray. Other superiors like “C,” played by James Faulkner (Downton Abbey) talk about keeping their field agents under control and prevent them from going “feral” like a cat.
Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (Games of Thrones) plays Yuri as Bill Skarsgård plays Merkel a key agent contact in West Berlin. The impressive Roland Møller plays important KGB agent leader Aleksander Bremovych.
Leitch and his crew balance the action choreography and impressive stunt work (notice their high ranking in the ending credits) with great filmmaking including an effective lighting effect after a character burns a photograph and a graphic match transitioning a character smoking a cigarette to an impressive overhead shot of Berlin amid a large protest. Special effects play an important role in the safety of the stunt people as they replace potentially dangerous gunshot “squib” effects as well as increase the realism (physics, etc.).
The music delivers nice enhancements through Tyler Bates’ musical score and the endless 1980s songs including artists like David Bowie, The Clash, Depeche Mode, A Flock of Seagulls, George Michael, Nena, New Order, and ‘Til Tuesday. Bates also teams up with Marilyn Manson on the song “Stigmata.”
Filmed in Germany and Hungary, Atomic Blonde comes recommended for the action, stuntwork and style plus one of the most satisfying endings in the action genre in the last several years. Great work layering each action with multiple purposes that engages audiences to pay close attention as they enjoy the action-filled ride. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.