[Screen It]

"ATOMIC BLONDE"
(2017) (Charlize Theron, James McAvoy) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A top MI6 agent must contend with various attempts on her life while trying to find and protect a stolen list of spies, uncover a possible double agent, and decide who she can and can't trust in her tangled world of espionage.
PLOT:
It's 1989 and MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (CHARLIZE THERON) is being questioned by her immediate superior, Eric Gray (TOBY JONES), as well as his CIA counterpart, Emmett Kurzfeld (JOHN GOODMAN), about a failed mission in West Berlin with the backdrop of the Berlin Wall about to fall. She was sent there not only to investigate the death of a spy colleague, but also rumors of a double agent and the troubling report that a list of spies had been stolen and could thus compromise all of MI6's operations and agents.

The story then rewinds to a few days before the interrogation when Lorraine -- an accomplished agent whose beauty hides her lethal abilities -- ends up teamed with MI6 station chief David Percival (JAMES McAVOY) who has in his company an East German man, Spyglass (EDDIE MARSAN), who's reportedly committed the entire stolen spy list to memory.

Lorraine doesn't trust David, which also holds true -- at least initially -- in regard to rookie French agent Delphine Lasalle (SOFIA BOUTELLA), although that initial mistrust quickly segues into a love affair. From that point on, Lorraine tries to get Spyglass to safety in order to protect the agent list, all while contending with a variety of attempts on her life.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I know it's the job of actors to make us believe they're characters sometimes far removed from the performers' real-life personas, but I still sometimes marvel over how they (with the help of their directors, cinematographers, editors and more) can have most everyone suspend a huge heaping dose of disbelief and accept the role they're playing.

While Andy Serkis and his motion capture performances immediately come to mind in that regard (in creating any number of computer-generated characters), I'm referring here more to recognizable actors and actresses who still look the same for the most part, but nonetheless come off as a completely different person.

And more often than not that stems from the physicality required from the part. For instance, before the "Bourne" movies, would anyone have imagined Matt Damon being a believable action figure? The same holds true for 56-year-old Liam Neeson in "Taken" and Keanu Reeves back when most people associated him with "Bill & Ted."

Charlize Theron also fits that bill. While she's been in some action pics in the past such as "Aeon Flux," most viewers probably don't associate her with playing kick-butt heroines. But after "Mad Max: Fury Road" and now her starring role in "Atomic Blonde," it's sort of becoming a tad difficult to remember her in any role not associated with extreme physicality.

In this film from director David Leitch and screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (who's adapted Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's 2012 graphic novel "The Coldest City"), Theron plays MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton who's sent to West Berlin right before the fall of the Berlin Wall to try and find a stolen list that names spies and thus could be detrimental to both them and national security.

Complicating matters is that a spy colleague of hers has recently been murdered, there's talk of a possible double agent, and the local station chief (James McAvoy) she's been assigned to work with appears to be a rough around the edges loose cannon.

While all involved with the film apparently believe -- or at least hope -- that they've delivered a riveting espionage thriller like so many such films that have come down the cinematic pike over the decades, that's the least interesting part of the film.

We barely know anything about the characters (which, I guess, is sort of the point of such nebulous people) and the framing setup (where John Goodman and Toby Jones play government types debriefing and interrogating the agent after the fact, followed by flashbacks to the pivotal events and then back to the present and so on) is a tired storytelling device that easily could have been jettisoned with no ill effect.

The reason for the film to exist is simply in watching Theron kick some serious booty, and in that regard, she and the film deliver in spades -- and then some. All of the plot mechanics are simply present to maneuver the actress' character into a variety of action set pieces, and she and the behind the scenes tech folks make it nothing short of viscerally exciting.

None of which should really come as much of a surprise as Leitch also previously helmed "John Wick" where Keanu Reeves pretty much did the same sort of thing -- in equally impressive fight and gunplay action -- as Theron does here. And don't think that just because the lead is a lady that she gets off easy as she takes as much physical beating as do those who receive it from her.

In fact, there's one signature piece -- where Lorraine rushes a wounded man into an apartment building and then must deal with a variety of bad guys -- that pushes the boundaries of what most viewers will accept as entertaining, what with the lead looking like she just went fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson back in his prime.

But it's a technical masterpiece of choreography, stunts and more as the multi-minute sequence -- as far as I could tell -- doesn't contain any edits. I can't imagine how long it took to rehearse or then film (and how many takes it must have required), but the end result is nothing but impressive (if a bit wince-inducing).

If you like your action impressively staged and literally and figuratively hard-hitting (and you enjoy classic '80s era songs that help heighten the film's highly stylized vibe), you could do far worse than what's offered here, and Theron and company sell it so well that you'd be forgiven for forgetting the actress' past parts (including winning an Oscar for "Monster").

Here, she's an action monster and I can only imagine we'll be seeing more of her playing this same character in "Atomic Blonde 2," "Atomic Blonde Gone Nuclear" and so on. This first installment of a likely franchise rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed July 25, 2017 / Posted July 28, 2017


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