The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a movie where everything is great except for the story. Normally, a weak story is a deal-breaker, but that's not quite the case here. If you can get into the vibe created by all the other elements the performances, the cinematography, the action, the use of music there's a significant amount of fun to be had. Just don't expect to get a plot that you can sink your teeth into.

Set in Berlin during the '80s, the movie very much relies on a MacGuffin. Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent tasked with locating a list of double agents that, as one character says, could keep the Cold War going for many years. To do this, she has to first make contact with another agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), a wild man whose allegiances are somewhat questionable. Multiple countries want to get their hands on the list, which has gone missing. There is, however, a man nicknamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who has it memorized. Lorraine and David need to protect him. During this time, she meaningfully connects with a sultry French agent (The Mummy's Sofia Boutella). All of this plays out in flashback, as Lorraine recounts the events to an MI6 official (Toby Jones) and a CIA big shot (John Goodman).

There are so many characters and so many things going on in Atomic Blonde that keeping track of it all is difficult. That's what prevents the story from really hooking you. Remembering who's connected to whom and how they're connected is a Herculean task at times. The best way to approach the movie is to ignore the specifics and focus on the generalities. As long as you know everyone wants the list and that they're all trying to prevent each other from acquiring it, getting the overall gist becomes do-able.

That also allows you to absorb the atmosphere. The period Berlin setting helps set Atomic Blonde apart from other action movies. Jonathan Sela's cinematography does a very interesting thing, contrasting the stark, depressing locale with the bright beauty of Lorraine. Charlize Theron is lit in such a way that she glows. As one of the world's most beautiful women, she glows anyway, of course, but here she literally glows. The effect serves to make her stand out from everything else, as though the character is bringing a ray of light to an otherwise gloomy city.

Director David Leitch previously co-directed John Wick. With both pictures, he displays a knack for capturing action in an impressively brutal manner. Atomic Blonde's best scene emphasizes what's so special. Lorraine takes on a bunch of bad guys in a stairwell, through an apartment, and out into the street. The brawl lasts maybe seven or eight minutes (at least) and is made to look as though accomplished in a single unbroken shot. It wasn't, yet the effect is incredible. Leitch gets the cameras in close, so that we start to notice things like the fact that Lorraine is getting bloodier and more bruised as the melee goes on. When you watch a fight scene with a million edits, the injuries are something you can easily take for granted. The single-shot illusion allows those accumulating injuries to provide a genuine sense of momentum and peril. Other scenes play out in similarly creative ways.

Theron gives a magnetic performance, projecting believable toughness while also providing glimpses into Lorraine's more sensitive side. The actress has tried her hand at action films before, sometimes to good effect (Mad Max: Fury Road) and sometimes to not-so-good effect (Aeon Flux). She's got a winner of a character here an icy cool woman who's as gorgeous as she is lethal. Theron knows just what to do with the role. Even if you don't entirely care about the plot, you definitely care about Lorraine, thanks to her work.

Putting this secret agent into an infrequently-depicted time and place, then allowing her to do her job to the creative use of classic '80s songs from the likes of Nena, Depeche Mode, and A Flock of Seagulls adds up to an action movie that has its own distinct feel. Atomic Blonde is appealingly different, which, storytelling issues aside, makes it a pleasure to immerse yourself in.

( out of four)

Atomic Blonde is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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