Sunday 20 August 2017

Atomic Blonde by Johnstad and Johnston

Set just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller starring Charlize Theron as a British operative, Lorraine Broughton, sent on a dubious mission which will involve considerable killing, betrayal, smoking and lesbian sex.

Sounds irresistible? Well, the movie begins as the usual confection of glib comic book violence (indeed it is based on a graphic novel series written by Antony Johnston and drawn by Sam Hart). 

But oddly, and agreeably, it grows more serious as it goes along. Eventually you actually find yourself caring whether Eddie Marsan's Stasi defector (codenamed 'Spyglass') survives to join his wife and child in the West.

Marsan is dignified in what could have been a really one dimensional role and Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Star Trek Beyond, Kingsman) turns in what may be her best performance yet as Delphine Lasalle (good name), a French spy whose involvement with Broughton becomes more than professional.

But the main support for Theron is David Percival (James McAvoy), the principal British agent in Berlin. He smokes a lot and wears sleeveless sweater vests.

I have to say I'm getting bored with James McAvoy doing his shtick. Like Ewan McGregor he's an immensely talented actor who is becoming calcified by his mannerisms, seemingly giving the same default performance repeatedly. 

On the other hand, his breathtaking work in Split — an otherwise failed film, should have earned McAvoy an Oscar. But here, as usual, he's busy being the sleazy operator, smoking and swearing.

There's altogether too much swearing in Atomic Blonde. (And the smoking. It just gets ridiculous.) The film isn't as funny, daring or transgressive as it seems to think it is. But it's still a pretty good action movie...

The screenplay is by Kurt Johnstad (who worked on Act of Valor and 300) and the director is David Leitch. This is his first directing credit but he has extensive experience as a stunt coordinator and stuntman.

And it shows. The best thing about Atomic Blonde are the gritty hand-to-hand fight scenes. Charlize Theron acquits herself well and is suitably athletic (though I never bought her British accent for a second).

But, for my money, if you want an action movie about a kick-ass chick involved in espionage shenanigans, there are at least three superior examples which I'd like to bring to your attention...

Salt starring Angelina Jolie — a spy movie which was apparently written with a male star in mind before Jolie stepped in and asked for the script to remain substantially unchanged. She did her own stunts, too. Go, Angelina!

Haywire, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Gina Carano, who was actually a professional kick boxer and martial arts champion. And the hand-to-hand combat in this film is unforgettable, giving Atomic Blonde a run for its money and maybe even outclassing it.

Then there's Unlocked, a well written and engrossing espionage thriller in which Noomi Rapace displays a tremendous physicality in the action sequences. And her character, Alice Racine, is so professional and ruthless she could eat Lorraine Broughton for lunch. No sexual innuendo intended.

Atomic Blonde isn't bad and as, I said, it gets better as it goes along. But if you're in the market for a female spy movie to rival Jason Bourne I'd recommend any of those three. Particularly Unlocked, which may still be on a big screen near you.

(Image credits: all posters from Imp Awards.)

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