Monday, November 20, 2017

Atomic Blonde - Sound, Fashion and Fury

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) emerges from a bathtub full of ice water and sits on the edge, battered, bruised and bloodied. This is how we meet our main character in Atomic Blonde. It's 1989 in Berlin with riots in the streets and the prospect of the Berlin Wall falling is a silent prayer on the lips of people in the East and the West. Lorraine has some explaining to do because her mission from MI6 (British Intelligence) to obtain a missing list of double agents has not exactly gone as planned. The story begins at the end as Lorraine tells all to a British agent (Toby Jones) and a not very welcome official from the CIA (John Goodman). This is the set up for this crazy, frenetic, stylized take on a not very cloak and dagger story. Ok there are plenty of sharp objects in play but I didn't see an actual dagger anywhere.

From the moment Lorraine's feet touch the ground in Berlin to meet fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) her life is in danger. The welcome wagon is a literal who's who of Eastern European thugs, cronies and assassins who all want to abduct her, kill her or abduct and kill her. The plot and spy mechanizations going on may be a little hard to follow but that's ok because Atomic Blonde thrives on plenty of visual and auditory style - oh and precisely orchestrated fight scenes. There's a few of those too. East Berlin is a gray city punctuated by splashes of color such as the ever present graffiti on the walls and the day glow hair styles of the German punk movement. As controlled as the lives of the citizens may be, there is a thriving underground where the currency could be a bottle of Jack Daniels or information that would steer the direction of the Cold War. Finding herself in this snake's den and having to put some amount of trust in Percival who is a prince of sorts among these snakes, Lorraine has a tough job ahead of her.

I often break movies down into the good, the bad and the ugly. Fortunately there is no ugly but plenty of good and a small serving of bad. Charlize Theron who has a lot of personal stake in seeing this movie made is fantastic as Lorraine. She is cool and stylish knocking back her Stoli on ice and wearing some great 80's fashion from names like Dior, Galliano and Burberry...but as you know from the trailer she is nursing a seriously deadly rage beneath the surface. James McAvoy is just as good. You never know whether to trust his slacker like persona because you suspect he's a character you could be in the sheets with one day and fighting it out in the streets the next. A third leading character is the music. I'm reminded of 1998's Run Lola Run but if you need a more recent reference think of Baby Driver. So many scenes are highlighted by some great 80's synth pop such as Bowie, New Order, Queen, 'Til Tuesday and 99 Luftballons (a literal Cold War anthem). The bad I mentioned is very slight. With all of the names thrown around and the shifting loyalties, it's easy to loose track of the plot but if you can manage the the short IMBD synopsis, you'll be fine.

I enjoyed this enough that I am crossing my fingers for a sequel. Charlize Theron and director David Leitch (known for John Wick) have spoken so affectionately of Atomic Blonde that I think there is a good chance of that. One last note. If graphic novels are your thing, Atomic Blonde is based on a beautifully done graphic novel called The Coldest City.