By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Atomic Blonde”; Director: David Leitch; Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones; Rating: **1/2
“Atomic Blonde” is an action-packed, stylishly mounted but twisty spy thriller, based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 released graphic novel called “The Coldest City”.
Set in 1989, just prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, tensions run high amongst the intelligence agencies in the Soviet Union, Germany, England and the US. On the eve of the wall collapse, a British Agent working for MI6, James Gasciogne, is killed and a McGuffin list containing the names of all the spies is stolen.
Ten days later, Lorraine Broughton (Theron) an undercover agent also working for MI6, who was assigned to retrieve the list and assassinate the traitor who is killing British agents in East Germany, is brought to London and interrogated by her superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA Agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) about her mission to Berlin. When we first meet her, she is emerging battered and bruised from an ice bath. Her muscular body writhes and contorts, suggesting she is a tough woman who can handle any situation.
Loraine recalls that her investigations lead her to several connections namely; her local contact – a wild woolly character called David Percival (James McAvoy) who is a black market kingpin and a popular guy in East Germany, one of David’s associate – a East German Security officer code named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who has the memorised the secret files and now wants to escape to West Germany and a naive French intelligence agent Delphine Lassalle (Sofia Boutella) who gets intimately close to Lorraine.
While the film starts off smoothly, the plot in the second act feels bogged down with complicated twists and turns that are perfunctorily staged with high octane action sequences. These sequences are astutely choreographed and appealing but they do not add anything concrete to the storytelling.
So on the face of it, “Atomic Blonde” is more of an interrogation film, rather than an espionage thriller and thus with Lorraine revealing the turn of events, the plot gets predictable and thus loses its spark.
But what keeps you mesmerised are cinematographer Jonathan Sela’s fine camera work and editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir’s razor fine edits. Sela’s frames have a distinguished monochromatic palette with mood lighting.
The most impressive aspect throughout the film is the way the camera is used during intense moments. There are few occasions when you feel you are watching the scene in a continuous take and makes you grab the edge of your seat. This is especially evident when Lorraine is fighting a series of hitmen in and around the staircase of an apartment building in her bid to save and shepherd Eddie Marsan across the border.
Charlie Theron in the eponymous role as the enigmatic, stone-cold assassin, Lorraine is agile and magnetic. Smoking and brooding, she poses like a model and pummels her opponents like a martial arts expert.
James McAvoy as the cheeky David Percival is charming, so is Sofia Boutella, but they fail to lift the film’s spirit. John Goodman and Toby Jones in limited roles as investigators are wasted. Eddie Marsan as Spyglass is simply intriguing and natural.
Overall, the film, with an excellent sound track that gives the adrenaline boost to the narrative is rugged and stylish.
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