Released: July 2017
Director: David Leitch
Run Time: 115 Minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Charlize Theron: Lorraine Broughton
James McAvoy: David Percival
Eddie: Marsan: Spyglass
John Goodman: Emmett Kurtzfeld
Toby Jones: Eric Gray
James Faulkner: Chief ‘C’
Sofia Boutella: Delphine Lasalle
Bill Skarsgard: Merkel
Setting an action movie during a specific period in history is nothing new. We’ve seen it done before on MANY occasions. Indiana Jones was set during the onset of World War II and a lot of my favorite kung-fu movies were set during various dynasties throughout the Chinese Empire. Setting a movie in a particular historical era can give the film a very unique flavor. Each setting offers a very different set of visual and combat styles. I love movies that take place in these historical periods because it gets me interested in history. Sometimes, one can be a witness to an unprecedented historical event that can change the world. 1989 was a very important year for many reasons. It wasn’t just because of a new presidential election, but because on November 9, East Germany opened its borders and the Berlin Wall came down. This was the end of the Soviet Union as we knew it. The Union would not fully collapse until 1991, but the fall of the Berlin Wall was a signal that the end was near for the Soviets. I remember EXACTLY where I was when that happened. I was sitting in our old living room with my brother and parents and we saw the first slab of the wall come down. I was 7 years old. So, how do you craft a movie with a backdrop like that? You end up with Atomic Blonde, that’s how.
Set in Germany in 1989, Atomic Blonde follows a female British spy, Lorraine Broughton, as she is assigned to work with another agent, David Percival, to retrieve a former Stasi officer because he has a list of a number of agents operating in Germany. What follows is an action-packed race to get to the officer before it’s too late. It’s a pretty solid story that has multiple twists and turns throughout. This isn’t your typical spy-thriller, although it does tend to use some tropes associated with the genre. What sets this apart from all others is its setting. Germany in 1989 was a very rough place to be, especially if you were unlucky enough to be on the eastern side of the wall. While there is definitely chaos surrounding the story, the film still manages to focus on its main characters and story. It’s very intriguing. When you think it wraps up nicely, it throws another twist in there for good measure.
The performances in the film are really solid across the board. John Goodman appears as the CIA guy, Emitt Kurtzfeld, and it’s always a joy to see Goodman working. He’s fantastic. Like-wise, Toby Jones is just as interesting as the British MI:6 counterpart. Sofia Boutella(from Star Trek: Beyond and The Mummy)is fantastic. I really like this actress. She gives it her all and has the potential to be a hell of an actress once she gets her real breakout role. However, the two performers that really steal the show are Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. McAvoy, as far as I’m concerned is one of the best actors working today. His character of David Percival is a slippery, yet, charming kind of rogue. You really don’t know what he’s up to most of the time, but McAvoy is so fun to watch. Atomic Blonde is Theron’s film, through and through. She is absolutely phenomenal. Not only is she sexy, but she brings a steely and calculating presence to the role. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Theron’s, honestly, but over the past couple of years she’s hit it out of the park.
You might be wondering, “How’s the action?” Holy. Shit. This is easily one of the most aggressive movies I’ve seen in years. A lot of folks and critics have often compared Atomic Blonde to John Wick. It’s not an unfair comparison. It’s also not a bad thing. The guy that worked on the John Wick films, David Leitch, makes his directorial debut here, and what a debut it is. Mr. Leitch comes from a background of stunt-work and action choreography and because of that, it was appropriate for him to take the lead here. He has a very unique take on how he films action. Because of that, most of the action in the film is not only hard-hitting, but you can see what’s going on. He wants the audience to see the action, not obfuscate it with shaky-cam. Some of these action sequences are insane. There’s one early on when she’s investigating a dead agent’s apartment and takes on multiple cops at once. It’s totally crazy. I loved it. There’s another sequence later on in the film which is one long take. I haven’t seen anything like that since Tom Yum Goong(The Protector). What really sells the action is Charlize Theron herself. She devoted 8 weeks to train for the film, and she ends up doing all of her own fights and most of her own stunts. That is absolute dedication and it pays off extraordinarily well. The action has a very grounded reality to it that makes it far more gritty and brutal. This movie is an absolute blast from beginning to end.
The visual style of the film is incredible. It really gives you a bleak look at Germany before the wall fell and it looks like the film-makers took a walk back through time. The sets and the costumes are all top-notch. One of the things that really makes this film shine is the music. For fans of 80’s music, this is a god-send. The music used in this film is wild. I love it when movies use music for particular decades in the 20th century. It really sells the world in which these characters exist. I may end up picking up the soundtrack at some point. I would put the soundtrack up there with Guardians of the Galaxy.
If there’s an issue with Atomic Blonde, it’s the character development. While we get to see different sides to McAvoy’s character, we don’t learn a whole lot about Theron’s Lorraine, aside from the fact that she’s an ass-kicking British spy. Aside from that, we don’t learn a lot about her training or where she really comes from. I suppose that adds to the mystery of the character, but it doesn’t really give us much to empathize with. Thankfully, the action and story make up for that. It’s just an irritating little detail that you can’t help but notice. Overall, though, this is a sublime piece of action cinema and it must be seen by fans of the genre. This is one of the most surprising action films of the year.
My Final Recommendation: This one is a must-see. 9/10