Film review: ATOMIC BLONDE, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Atomic Blonde which features a pretty remarkable cast including Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman and Toby Jones is a slick, bone-crunching if occasionally slow adaptation of the first volume in the graphic novel series The Coldest City.

Set in the volatile atmosphere of East Germany in the dying days of the Cold War in 1989, the film sees MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) instructed by her creepy commander (Toby Jones) to recover a list of western agents working in the Soviet Union. She’s also given the treacherous task of saving an endangered double agent named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who’s been embedded with KGB. To do so she enlists the help of arrogant rogue agent David Percival (James McAvoy) and seductive French operative Delphine (Sofia Boutella).

A platinum blonde with skills of Jason Bourne, Lorraine spends much of the film shooting, punching and stabbing her way through an army of lumbering KGB thugs; they really have to change the syllabus at KGB school and not teach these guys to stand around like zombies waiting to be killed. While some of the action is ridiculous and too obviously choreographed, this film does feature a few vicious fight scenes where the villains return fire and Lorraine endures some fierce beatings. A battle in a stairwell is punishingly realistic and features some impressively visceral violence.

While successful as a steroid-driven action flick, the film falters when it tries to head into more complex John Le Carre-style espionage territory and a series of twists and opaque sub-plots occasionally cause the film to grind to a halt. The story simply doesn’t have the carefully calibrated intrigue that defines a top shelf political thriller.

Theron handles the role’s physical requirements well but her blank demeanour and minimal dialogue deprive her of charisma. Admittedly, hiding her true self is integral to the character but her performance doesn’t hint at an intriguing interior life. James McAvoy’s Percival is a much more compelling character; an energetic loose cannon with a quick wit and dress sense reminiscent of Fight Club’s Tyler Durden.

Refreshingly, despite being set in 1989 the film isn’t drowning in 80’s art direction and most characters look completely contemporary. Director David Leitch depicts East Germany as a mix of grim grey streets filled with imposing crumbling buildings and surreal neon lit hotels and nightclubs.

While it doesn’t look particularly 80’s it sounds 80’s with a mostly well-chosen period soundtrack mixing classics like New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ and Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ with a few quirky-jerky 80’s horrors.

Atomic Blonde could have been a silly superficial exploitation piece and while it’s hardly a politically insightful film, it’s a notch or two above most action fair.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Action.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): David Leitch.

Release date: 3rd Aug 2017.

Running time: 115 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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