1 September 2017

Review: Atomic Blonde

(Dir: David Leitch, 2017)

Try to imagine Atomic Blonde with an actress other than Charlize Theron in the lead role (presuming of course that you've seen the film). Sure, they would likely do a very fine job, but Theron thoroughly owns the character of Lorraine Broughton. Every fine detail of the film feels shaped around her, as opposed to it being an 'insert actress here' scenario. How closely this fits with the original character of the graphic novel doesn't really matter as most of us will be completely unfamiliar with it (the importance or not of fealty to source material is a separate conversation). So much of what makes Theron so good here is down to physicality. Her statuesque figure ensures she's imposing when she needs to be, a fearsome fighter who convincingly kicks ass in some brutal fight scenes that are shot with a bone-crunching intimacy. All the while she is stylish as hell, pulling off a near monochromatic wardrobe that aids her seductiveness, with the smoky eyes and smouldering English accent pushing us over the edge. Taking a step back you could say this is a character pushed a little too far into idealised territory, but she perfectly fits the tone of the film and feels ripped straight from the pages of a graphic novel.

The film is satisfyingly stylised, lifting it above the drab setting of Berlin circa November 1989. All too many European-set spy/espionage films feel content to live in murk and darkened alleys, but there's a greater sense of vibrancy here, as the action dances around the excitement and turmoil of impending social change. Music plays a huge part in this with an excellent selection of eighties classics setting the tone, never shying away from being in your face and always seeming to fit just right. Director David Leitch does a great job at balancing all this with the political intrigue and the violence, ensuring it stays thrilling, up until the final quarter at least.

As too frequently happens, Atomic Blonde loses energy as it approaches the end and sets about explaining it's tangled web. Nothing here is too shocking, but a key revelation would've been better served by a little less explanation and a little more mystery, providing something curious for any potential sequel to explore (if we're lucky enough to get one). But that doesn't ruin the fun had throughout the rest of the film, which the rest of the cast add too. James McAvoy's deeply embedded agent is more enjoyable / less annoying than he usually is, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones do what you can always trust them to do, whilst Sofia Boutella's mysterious character adds more intrigue despite taking certain moments too close to (unnecessary) male fantasy. 

Atomic Blonde is a thoroughly enjoyable film, benefiting greatly from how it's stylised and sounds, plus the era and location in which it's set. But mostly this is down to Theron – she owns the film and crafts a character who is both thrilling and mesmerising to watch. Another chapter in her story certainly wouldn't go amiss.

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