Review of “Atomic Blonde”

M-I 6 Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being debriefed in 1989 following a failed mission in Berlin by her superior Mr. Gray (Toby Jones) and a representative of the CIA (John Goodman). The mission was to retrieve microfilm stolen from a murdered agent that contains the names of all the Western agents embedded in the Soviet Union. It also has the name of a KGB double agent known only as Satchel. Broughton meets another M-I 6 agent named David Percival (James McAvoy) who has been in contact with the East German Secret Police agent that stole the microfilm who is known only as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). After the microfilm is stolen Spyglass tells Percival that he has committed all the names to memory and he wants to defect to the West along with his family in exchange for not giving the information to his bosses. Upon her arrival in Berlin, Broughton is attacked by several KGB agents who knew her name and what time she would be arriving. Unable to trust anyone, Broughton is certain she is being compromised at every turn. She notices a young woman following her around and later discovers she is a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Delphine is new to the espionage game and is in over her head. She and Broughton begin a physical relationship and Broughton believes she may be of some use in the case. Everywhere she turns Broughton is ambushed and pushed to her physical limits. Who is setting her up and trying to cause the mission to be a failure?

“Atomic Blonde” is based on a graphic novel released in 2012 called “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The movie is a violent, dark and gritty look at the coming collapse of the Soviet Union and how the last vestiges of Cold War gamesmanship played out over the course of a few days in the divided city of Berlin. There are brutal fights and sneaky double crosses amongst secret agents that are all aware of each other and their professed allegiances yet no one can be believed at their word. It’s a world that would be impossible to navigate which is one of the reasons “Atomic Blonde” is so good: You never know who is on what side and if they’ll stay there.

The trailers for “Atomic Blonde” do a good job at selling the action and there is plenty more in the film. Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is a very bad woman when she’s forced to defend herself. Anything can be a weapon: A high heel shoe, a set of car keys, a corkscrew, and a garden hose, anything she can reach can be used against her attacker. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and believably executed. Many are shown as a single unedited shot while others have sneaky edits inserted by whipping the camera around or sending the combatants into a dark corridor. Director David Leitch has figured out how to shoot the action in a way that is both close enough to where you almost can feel the impact of the punch but not so close you have trouble seeing what’s going on. It’s one of my biggest complaints about many action films including all the “Bourne” movies. The camera in those films is almost between the combatants and is constantly moving. In “Atomic Blonde,” the action is shot at the perfect distance and is always centered in the frame.

The action is also handled in a realistic way to the character. By that, I mean that Broughton isn’t always going to beat up every man she faces. Poorly trained East German police don’t give her much trouble but experienced KGB and Stasi agents get in almost as many punches as she does. Broughton takes a great deal of punishment over the course of the film and her body, which we get a few chances to see, shows the signs. Broughton isn’t shown as the kind of hero that doesn’t face a real test until the very end like in most films of this type. In “Atomic Blonde” the hero faces challenges at nearly every turn making her all the more believable and human.

Charlize Theron plays Broughton with a cold, detached and world-weary stare. She’s seen it all and done it all so nothing will faze her. When she is told she has a different look in her eyes when she’s telling the truth she responds that she won’t do it again as it could get her killed. Broughton is the quintessential yet stereotypical working woman in that she feels like she must be better at her job than any man and she can’t take time for a personal relationship as she would be seen as weak and not serious about her profession. In a way “Atomic Blonde” is a statement about how working women are held to a different standard than men but that is only if you think about it too much.

“Atomic Blonde” is all about the action and the intrigue. No one can be trusted and everyone is a potential traitor. This keeps the tension going throughout the film. Who is Satchel and will Spyglass and his information make it out of East Berlin? I won’t spoil it by telling you the answer but I will tell you finding out is a great deal of fun.

“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. There are numerous bloody fights and shootings. Theron and Boutella have a sex scene where breasts and bottoms are shown. We also see Theron getting out of an ice cube bath and see her mostly naked. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

As usual with a female-led action movie much is being made of having a woman performing stunts and engaging in brutal violence in a film. Any time a woman stars in a film genre that is usually the domain of men it generates articles and blogs about how this is a great step forward for women or cautionary stories wondering if it will make enough money to justify more action movies with female leads. The discussion is silly since the sex of the top-billed star is irrelevant: Is the movie any good? Does it deliver a good mix of action and story? Does it make sense? In the case of “Atomic Blonde” the answer to all three is “yes.” All the bloggers should look for more important stories to worry about.

“Atomic Blonde” gets five stars.

This week there’s a Stephen King adaptation and another female-led action thriller arriving at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Dark Tower—

Kidnap—

Listen to my new podcast The Fractured Frame available at wimz.com/podcasts, on iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Most of Australia is a desert that is roamed by gangs looking to steal from others or make them slaves. In this harsh world is Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a former cop who is dealing with the deaths of his wife and daughter at the hands of the aforementioned gangs. Max hallucinates seeing and hearing his wife and daughter. Max is captured by War Boys who are the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe controls both the water and food for his followers, making him their king whether they like it or not as both are in short supply. Also a valuable commodity is gasoline used to fuel the various gangs modified cars and trucks used as war machines. Going out on a run to collect gas from a nearby refinery is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who was kidnapped from her clan when she was a child. Max is discovered to be a universal blood donor and is used as a living blood bag for one of the War Boys named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux is a dedicated soldier of Joe’s and is willing to die for him to receive salvation in the next life in Valhalla. Furiosa has helped Joe’s five breeding wives escape his compound and deviates from her route trying to take them to her old home territory called the Green Place. Joe’s people are watching and see her change course. Joe checks and finds his wives are gone and gives chase along with several War Boys, including Nux who has Max strapped to the front of his car giving him a constant transfusion. The wives all begged Furiosa for her help and she believes this is the best chance she has to escape Joe’s domination and return home.

There’s very little story or dialog in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Most of the film’s two hour running time is filled with a massive car chase through the desert that is punctuated with incredible stunts, huge explosions and the occasional brief bit of discussion between the characters. Most other films that follow this formula would receive a fair amount of criticism but director and co-writer George Miller has delivered an action picture that succeeds despite what for many other movies would be shortcomings.

For his first trip back to the dystopian world he last visited 30 years ago, Miller has populated “Mad Max: Fury Road” with his most twisted and distorted group of characters yet. Most are freaks in some very obvious way. The War Boys have very pale white skin with many scarred with massive images on their chests and backs. Nux seems to be suffering with an ailment that causes large tumors just under the skin. He mentions that either the tumors or the night fever will probably kill him. Immortan Joe is covered with open boils and wears a breathing apparatus. Other secondary characters have ailments ranging from facial deformities to massively swollen legs and feet. The only people who look fairly normal are Max, Furiosa and Joe’s wives. Furiosa has an artificial arm that straps on with leather belts. My guess would be she ran afoul of Joe in some way and the loss of her arm below the elbow was her punishment. Joe obviously selected the five young women with which to breed due to their apparent lack of physical deformities. He also protects his property, as he calls them, by equipping each one with a chastity belt. Joe is willing to risk everything to get his wives back, even leaving his compound largely undefended to chase after them.

Joe’s dominance over his people is a bit puzzling. He requires a great deal of physical assistance from his inner circle as well as equipment to help him breathe. It doesn’t seem like it would take much to overthrow his regime by someone with a little courage. All the various gangs appear to be led by people who could be easily deposed. While these characters are certainly colorful, the world they populate seems to be geared toward those who are physically able to take and hold power. None of the primary gang leaders appear to be up to that. Something else that strikes me as odd is the availability of gasoline. If the world economy has completely collapsed it would seem that industry would be the most vulnerable. It isn’t easy to find and pump crude oil and it takes a fair amount of technology to refine it into gas and diesel. All this takes infrastructure, manufacturing, skilled labor, transportation and more. The world of “Mad Max: Fury Road” appears to be lacking most of the things needed to keep an industry producing yet there are dozens of gas guzzling vehicles running at full throttle over vast stretches of barren desert. I’m probably trying too hard to apply logic to a movie but these things stuck out to me.

My issues aside, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a visually spectacular film that should sate the appetite of action fans. The number of vehicles that must have been destroyed is likely enormous. Modified cars and trucks are flipped end over end and rolled numerous times right after they’ve been hit with an explosion. The stunt coordinator and stunt performers should all receive any and every award there is as bodies are sent flying in these crashes. Riders are shot off of motorcycles while flying 20 feet or more in the air. Gang members are swaying back and forth from tall polls and are dropping into moving vehicles during a lengthy fight scene near the end of the film. Many of the stunts were performed live with a minimum of computer effects making this one of the more dangerous shoots for stunt performers. This is action filmmaking the old fashioned way where there’s a chance people could die. No one did but that’s beside the point.

Aside from the stunts, the vehicles of “Mad Max: Fury Road” will catch your eye. Volkswagen Bugs covered in spikes, sawblades mounted on swing arms, trucks outfitted with dozens of speakers and a guy playing a flame-throwing guitar, a car running on tank treads, it all is on display and much more. If there is a backyard mechanic with ambition watching this film, it will likely make him or her start looking for a beater that can be modified into one of these automotive visions from Hell.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images. There are of course numerous car crashes and more than a few people being run over by vehicles. We see several people shot by various weapons. There is also a scene of a baby being cut from the womb of a woman who has died. The baby is also dead. It isn’t gory but it may be disturbing to some.

Tom Hardy isn’t given much to do in “Mad Max: Fury Road” other than to look angry or concerned. It sounds like most if not all of his dialog was overdubbed adding more bass to his brief speaking parts and grunts. It’s a bit of a reminder back to the original “Mad Max” when Mel Gibson’s and most of the other actor’s dialog was replaced with American actors covering up the Australian accents. In that instance, it was done since no one in the film was a well-known star and the script contained Australian slang terms. This time, the slang has been left intact but Max’s voice has still been overdubbed but by the same actor as playing the role. I suppose this was done to set the character apart and make him seem somehow special and almost supernatural. To me, it just stuck out as odd. Of course, this movie is populated by the odd who in the world they inhabit are the normal ones. That probably makes the action of the film just another day in the Australian outback even if it isn’t your usual fare in American movie theatres.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” gets five stars out of five.

The summer movie season rolls on with two highly anticipated new films: One is a remake of a classic 1980’s film while the other is a project that was kept tightly under wraps until recently. I’ll see at least one of them and let you know what I think.

Poltergeist—

Tomorrowland—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.