Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde

The Tide is High

In the late1980s, Berlin was a frightening place to be and not just because of all the David Hasselhoff music. However, it is here in the beating heart of the Cold War and just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, that Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), the titular Atomic Blonde and an MI6 undercover agent, is sent. She is tasked with investigating the murder of a fellow agent and recovering a list which contains the identities of double agents which could extend the Cold War by untold years.

We first meet Broughton at the end of this mission, submerged in an ice-bath – battered, bruised and self-administering some medicinal Stoli. It’s not your typical introduction. We quickly cut to her post-mission debrief run by her MI6 superior (Toby Jones), alongside a growling CIA operative (John Goodman), while MI6 Chief ’C’ (James Faulkner) watches through a two-way mirror. They have one simple question ‘what the hell happened over there?’

Through a series of hazy flashbacks, intercut with the ongoing and increasingly hostile debrief, we begin to piece together what may have gone down.

Theron continues her subversion of the action film genre in another role that announces anything you can do – Mr Bond/Bourne/Wick – I can do better. Broughton is a full-on bad-ass heroine and the perfect foil for the former stuntman and current Director David Leitch to take on after his uncredited work on John Wick. Their partnership is immense, with Leitch planting Theron in the heart of the frame and holding on her through luxuriously long takes, which showcase both Theron’s own unflinching physical commitment to the action role and Leitch’s balletically bonkers directing style.

This is all played out alongside a thumping 80s electronic soundtrack, which blends some occasionally on the nose choices with some nailed on atmospheric enhancers. This is all visualised by cinematographer Jonathan Sela who conjures a murky, grimy, yet neon infused world, which captures both the underbelly of a city going through such monumental change and the darkness of Broughton and her fellow cold war comrades.

Such as her local contact, David Percival (James McAvoy), the frankly tank-top-tastic slimy local station chief who is perhaps in need of a rotation back to HQ sooner rather than later. It’s almost as if Bruce, McAvoy’s corrupt, junkie cop from Filth, decided on a career change and became a spy. Percival attempts to steer Broughton and her investigation through the city, where they encounter a steady stream of competing operatives (standouts being Sofia Boutella and Eddie Marsan), all with their eyes on the List.

While the plot stretches credibility and has perhaps one too many twists for its own good, in many ways this doesn’t really matter. It is the visceral action, free flowing direction and the joy of seeing Charlize Theron once again putting in a performance of such immense physicality that pulls you in. With Atomic Blonde, it is hard to imagine seeing a better action film or indeed a better action performance, this year.

★★★★

Review by Will Malone 

The Info:

  • Director – David Leitch
  • Starring – Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, John Goodman
  • Writer – Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Antony Johnson (novel)
  • Year – 2017
  • Running Time – 155 mins

If you enjoyed this, then try Nocturnal Animals.

This was originally published at the Canberra Film Blog on 1 September 2017.

My CIFF Diary – Day One

My passion for film has reignited since I arrived in Australia just over a year ago after spending the best part of 12 years living overseas with no access to a regular cinema.  I have spent the last year reacquainting myself with the cinema experience as well as introducing myself slowly into the online world of movie related geekery.  It was here that I read Ryan McNeil (from the always informative and insightful The Matinee)  account of attending the Toronto International Film Festival, as well numerous Australian bloggers who attended both the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals.

Their experiences sounded incredible, so it was fair to say that I was quite excited about attending the 16th Canberra International Film Festival (CIFF), which whilst not on the same scale as others, still boasted 60 films from 30 different countries.  Additionally, this was not only my first time attending CIFF but it was also my first ever festival.  There was lots to look forward to.

I skipped the opening gala evening and showing of Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share, as it was over $50 a ticket, which seemed a little extreme, so my CIFF kicked off on the second day with two screenings at the beautiful, yet contemporary, Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive.

CIFF Film One – Grabbers

Director – Jon Wright
Starring – Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley
Writer – Kevin Lehane
Year – 2012
Running Time – 94 mins
 
 

This was a great start to my festival, essentially a tale of Tremors in Tipperary.  Richard Coyle (of Coupling fame) stars as a Garda officer, who alongside Ruth Bradley is posted to a small island off the Irish coast, which is invaded by blood sucking aliens. As so many often do, the local community turn to drink in order to drown their sorrows only to discover that being drunk may actually be their salvation.

Horror comedy is such a hard genre to get right, but Grabbers is pitched perfectly in this regard.  The aliens look convincing, the story is ridiculous yet solid and the wide supporting cast put in entertaining performances whilst gently poking fun at their own stereotypical tendencies.

Highly recommended, Grabbers will grab you from the off and is a smart, intelligent and above all else funny horror comedy which succeeds where so many others have failed.

★★★★

CIFF Film Two – Berberian Sound Studio 

Director – Peter Strickland
Starring – Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco
Writer – Peter Strickland
Year – 2012
Running Time – 92 mins
 

Toby Jones stars as a British sound engineering sent to work on a Giallo Italian horror film in Rome.  Jones, more used to recording the sounds of the British countryside, sons finds himself at odds with not only his new employers but also with the dark nature of the film.

This was a real contrast to Grabbers and much more hard work.  The first half is interesting, especially looking at how a sound is mixed into a film, so much so that I will never look at vegetables and fruit in the same way again.  The second half however dives deeper into Jones’s consciousness and it is hard to tell at times what is real and what is reality.

This deeper second half brought a significant amount of walkouts in the screening I was in, and if I am honest, I did consider it as well.  However in the end I was glad that I stayed, but I am not sure I could really tell you what the last 20 minutes meant.

Worth watching for Toby Jone’s performance as well as a fascinating the opening half; however if you want to understand the second, then knowledge of 1970’s Italian horror films and especially Giallo would certainly help.

★★