Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

The final days of East Berlin are the setting for a stylish spy thriller

Atomic Blonde (Atomic Blonde: Bez lítosti)
Directed by David Leitch
With Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, James Faulkner, Roland Møller

The end of the Cold War in Berlin serves as the backdrop for Atomic Blonde, a spy thriller that gets most of its mileage from action scenes set to 1980s dance hits.

The re-creation of the look and mood in East Berlin, as the communist collapses, pushes this a bit past other action thrillers built around an endless set of highly choreographed fight scenes.

For people who moved to the Wild East back in the 1990s, this will be the biggest appeal of the film.

Charlize Theron is back in her action mode as Lorraine Broughton, a British MI6 agent on the trail of a would-be defector and a list that mustn't fall into the wrong hands. She doesn't really blend in with the crowd, though, always being rather fashionable.

Her main contact is David Percival (James McAvoy), who is riding the wave of change as a black marketeer in the more colorful corners of the rapidly changing East Berlin. Televisions playing the news keep the audience informed of the events, which anyone who lived through the era will remember.

As is typical of spy films, the plot is an excuse to go to a variety of locations rapidly for some intrigue and action. Director David Leitch, who previously co-directed the action hit John Wick, started his career as stunt performer and stunt director. He handles the film as if it were one big action film with some dialogue thrown in to help the pacing.

There are some visually stunning scenes, especially a big street rally that turns the climax of the film.

Nobody is to be trusted, and Lorraine has to fight her way out of almost every encounter she has, to the beat of New Wave music such as 99 Luftballons, Der Kommissar, Personal Jesus and I Ran (So Far Away), plus some hits by David Bowie, New Order and the Cure.

The film is told in flashback, as Lorraine is debriefed over that went wrong. It is apparently an international mess. The ever reliable John Goodman comes in as a CIA contact named Emmett Kurzfeld to listen in on the questioning.

Toby Jones, who was recently in Anthropoid, turns up as Eric Gray, another person questioning Lorraine about the mission. They are convincing as spymasters but pretty much bound to their seats for the film.

Among the minor characters, Eddie Marsan stands out at Spyglass, the defector that everyone is looking for. His somewhat drab and unfashionable character is a contrast to the more colorful Lorraine and David Percival.

The main theme is who actually can be trusted, and as the film goes on more layers of deception and duplicity are revealed.

The film in the end is more style than content. Charlize Theron shows her range by doing a more glamorous action hero in contrast to the rugged role she played in Mad Max: Fury Road.

The source of the story is the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The film doesn't come off as a comic book adaptation, which is perhaps a plus as well. Audiences seem to have hit a saturation point with comic books.

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