Atomic Blonde: A Gritty and Stylish Espionage Thriller Let Down by a Tacky Screenplay
Movie Review by Anirudh Madhav (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
In the opening scene of the Atomic Blonde, we see a bruised Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) relaxing in a tub of ice at a glitzy hotel. Lorraine isn’t the classic spy who hacks into systems or who is equipped with high-end weaponry. Instead, she is a bad-ass agent who carries off in style and performs high-wire action stunts, all while maintaining her icy-cold demeanor.
Adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film is set in the backdrop of the impending fall of the Berlin Wall. MI6 operative Lorraine travels to Germany to investigate the death of a fellow agent and retrieve a valuable asset from a double agent named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). Eccentric fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), while double-crossing, turns the story into a full-blown spy war.
Lorraine has a great sense of style and adorns eye-catching retro outfits throughout the film. Directed by veteran stuntman David Leitch, she carries forward action scenes in style. The 7-minute shoot-and-beat-‘em-up sequence is electrifying, bloody and magical. Leitch portrays the fight in the perspective of audience as an imaginary third partner alongside Lorraine. Director of Photography Jonathan Sela has enhanced and gracefully captured every fight sequence with the frosty blue and grey undertones.
The neon-lit deep saturated tones and the soundtracks by Tyler Bates lend a retro touch to the movie set in 1989 Germany. However, certain classic tracks such as Nena, Depeche Mode and Clash were added to unwanted scenes, which could otherwise could have made an impact in certain action sequences. Lorraine’s short-lived relationship with French spy Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) brings out her humane side in the midst of the ongoing chaos. Though Delphine brings out innocence and sensuality in the romantic scenes with Lorraine, her performance remains inconsistent. As a brutally bruised Lorraine debriefs MI6 superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA chief Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) in the first half of the film, it is evident that the screenplay is tacky and even confusing at parts. The shifting scenes and action sequences in the midst of the interrogation derails the flow of the film, but the stunning action choreography and the neon-lit visuals brings the film back on track.
More than the core storyline of Atomic Blonde, we realize that the focus of the movie lies in revealing the aftereffects on an operative after an espionage mission. David Percival (James McAvoy) delivers a stellar performance as a maniac operative and his screen presence even overshadows Charlize Theron’s somewhat brittle performance. Atomic Blonde definitely retains the touch of typical John Wick-style action and Charlize Theron does perform her action sequences impressively.
The debriefing scenes with Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA chief Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) derail the narration of the film which already suffers from a tacky narration. The film moves away from the core story of recovering a crucial list and instead focusses on the impact of an espionage mission on operatives. The scene featuring the sexual encounter between Lorraine (Charlize Theron) and Delphine (Sofia Boutella) has been censored for the Indian audience, despite being certified as an adult film.
Though Atomic Blonde follows a comic book narrative with shifting scenes between the past and the present, a refined screenplay would have made the viewing experience even better. Apart from John Wick fame David Leitch’s realistic hack-and-slash storyline, the film has little to offer in terms of characterization and storyline.
The movie has sought to replicate a comic-book style of narration, leaving it with an uneven screenplay. However, the 80s soundtracks, visuals and action elements trump the movie’s shortcomings. Though the film heavily borrows the John Wick-style action, its technical and visual wisdom in capturing the streets or Berlin and the stunning 7-minute action choreography makes it one of the best female-centric spy films ever.