Genre: Action and Adventure, Thriller
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones
Release Date: July 28th, 2017
Director David Leitch has a long history as a stuntman. He’s worked as a stunt double in features like The Mexican, Van Helsing, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (where he served as Brad Pitt’s double). He’s also worked as a stunt coordinator, a fight designer, and an action coordinator.
It’s no surprise then that his latest directional feature Atomic Blonde is packed with great action-packed fight sequences.
This is a director who understands how well-staged action sequences work and takes pleasure in showing off his unique talent. Leitch was an uncredited director of John Wick (which featured some great action sequences) but Atomic Blonde is Leitch’s own project and his flair for intense and elaborate action sequences is on full display.
Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, the title character. She walks into an interrogation room early on, bruised but in control, and ready to tell her story. Through a series of flashbacks, her story unfolds. Broughton was sent into Berlin at the end of the Cold War to investigate the murder of an undercover British agent and to retrieve a file with secret British intelligence (including the names of covert agents) on it. The deceased official had that information on him when he died so Broughton is tasked with tracking it down.
The concept is enlivened by the feature’s setting: Berlin in the late 1980s just days before the Berlin Wall falls. In the feature’s opening moments, we witness Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear down this wall” speech and it’s obvious that the wall will soon topple. That setting adds a flavorful edge to the story with the parties involved — Russian operatives, British spies and American officials — unsure of what the political landscape looks like after the wall’s collapse. There’s an intrigue in seeing intelligence officials working to keep their past secrets hidden as history begins another chapter.
James McAvoy plays David Percival, Broughton’s British colleague in Berlin. He brings a rich eccentricity to the story. While Broughton is quiet and intense, Percival is loud and colorful. His character is bursting with energy and flavor and it’s hard to know what his next move will be.
Adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City by author Antony Johnston (and illustrator Sam Hart), the screenplay by Kurt Johnstad can be a little confusing. There are subplots about a man nicknamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who claims to remember all of the data from the secret file and another one about Broughton’s budding relationship with a naïve French agent (Sofia Boutella). These stories can be a bit distracting from the main plot but they never fully take the movie off course.
Two of the feature’s greatest strengths are Theron and McAvoy, who really dive into their characters. Theron, in particular, is compellingly cool as the main character and keeps the audience enraptured even when the plot feels unfocused.
The action scenes are the feature’s main highlight though. Even in the midst of an intense sequence, Leitch refuses to take the camera off the mark and it’s exciting to see a brutal fight seemingly unfold in front of our eyes. There are editing tricks here, no doubt, but they are so subtle that audiences could forget they even exist. Leitch’s work is all the more auspicious because the fight scenes feel so natural. Characters are bruised and beaten during these scenes and they start to lose their momentum and strength as the fights go on, making it seem like these actors truly are being broken onscreen.
It’s a testament to the director’s resume that he so notably pulls off grand fight sequences and it’s a testament to the actors’ will that they were so open to giving Atomic Blonde their all. It shows even when the movie’s structure doesn’t always work.
Review by: John Hanlon