Visceral, Like A Punch to the Throat
Title: Atomic Blonde
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Rating: R, Restricted
I went purposefully into Atomic Blonde with no preconceived notions of what to expect other than an action thriller. True, I hold some expectations when it comes to the actors involved. Charlize is certainly one the of the best actresses in the game these days. McAvoy has been strong in everything I’ve seen him in and Goodman has built a bit of a standard for himself.
I had heard (but never looked into) the fact that this film was based off of a comic book. For that reason alone, I made every effort to distance myself from the source material. In my mind, things different mediums need to stand on their own.
The story is set in November of 1989, days before the Wall that divided Berlin came down. The Cold War was still in motion, even as the future seemed to be making way for its demise. Charlize portrays an experienced field operative for Britain’s MI6, Lorraine Broughton, who is given the mission to retrieve “The List.” As we’ve seen in numerous tales to date, this list has detailed info on a shiteload of British spies (if not more…it’s never clearly stated what all is included other than “field agents”). Including one who is apparently a double agent going by the moniker of Satchel.
You get a taste of what is to come with the first two scenes: one of an agent being hunted and eliminated and one of Lorraine finishing an ice bath, dealing with the aftermath of what appears to be a near-death experience. Both scenes provide that initial, visceral insight into the realities of spy field work. Pain and/or death.
Although Charlize is a stunning woman (this goes almost without saying), the “nude” scene is anything but erotic. She is covered in terrible bruises, her eye socket is battered and could very well be fractured, veins in her eye are ruptured, cuts and split lips… Just watching her is a painful, gut-wrenching experience. And, we haven’t even seen what caused all this damage.
Cut to a week and a half earlier and Lorraine is brought in to discuss a new mission. She is asked about James – the unfortunate spy in the first scene of the film – and informed he is dead. It’s apparent that she knew him more than she lets on. (We’ve already been informed of this during that first ice bath scene.)
Lorraine, now given her assignment to go to East Berlin and retrieve the List at all costs, is told that her contact is another British operative who has gone “a bit native.” Percival, played to the hilt by McAvoy, is immediately displayed as someone not to be trusted. For reasons we *think* we know. He is a odd one, that guy.
Needless to say, the job goes sideways and Lorraine is knee deep in it pretty much as soon as her feet hit the soil in Berlin.
There are the obligatory fight scenes, conniving characters of Russian, German, British and even American heritage. There are the usual twists and turns of loyalty that one would expect in this type of film. It is, in its basest form, the ideal spy flick.
However, this fact aside, what makes Atomic Blonde standout are two things: Charlize (of course) and the vicious, visceral nature of the realism laid into its scenes.
One cannot help but shudder at the sheer brutality that Lorraine endures (and throws out). And, unlike so many of these types of films, she carries the damage with her as she continues to try and complete her mission. Pain is part of the game, here. Utter will is what it takes to survive in this world of friends and enemies and frienemies, cutthroats and connivers.
I’m one of those who really enjoyed how primitive the camera work was on the latter Bourne films. However, here the camera is damned near a part of the action, itself. I one fight on the stairs, it felt like the audience was standing (and trying to get out of the way) of the action! I loved it.
The second big fight that Lorraine has to get through is truly a horrific episode. Charlize must’ve put some serious time in training for this film. Because she is female and (although she is not a small powerless woman) smaller and less powerful than most of the male opposition she must face, she has to use different methods for winning the battle.
The character is trained to use elbows and knees rather than a fist to the face, since she would most likely just break her own hand. She uses anything available to her in order to win the day. A rope. A lamp. A portable two-burner hotplate. Seriously. It’s crazy and cool and choreographed to perfection.
In the end, the tables get turned over and over. Her garnered knowledge seems to keep the tide in her favor.
But, again, as in all games…the last play is the most important one.
Personally, I thought it was wonderful, even if difficult to watch at times. Well written, well photographed, well choreographed. And, most importantly, well-acted.