The Mob’s Reel: ‘Atomic Blonde’ Lacks Focus but Packs a Punch
The Mob’s Reel is a film column that features reviews and essays covering everything from the latest blockbusters to standout indies.
Though narratively muddled, Atomic Blonde is bolstered by stylish action and a commanding lead performance by Charlize Theron.
In 1989, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton is sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a government operative and recover a list of double agents stolen by the KGB, wading through the politically volatile landscape of East and West Berlin at the tail-end of the Cold War.
Helmed by David Leitch, the film doesn’t cover new ground within the spy genre, and the execution of its narrative lacks dexterity; the dully convoluted central mystery makes it hard to care about the characters or their true allegiances. Redeeming the film are Theron’s electrifying performance as Broughton, a killer 80s soundtrack, cinematographer Jonathan Sela’s neon-soaked visual palette, and hard-hitting fight sequences.
Broughton is steely and reserved, having grown accustomed to the constant duplicity inherent in her line of work. Theron is magnetic at playing Broughton’s growing unease as her mission goes off the rails, forcing her to fight tooth and nail to stay alive. Supporting Theron are a number of reliable performers, including John Goodman as a seasoned CIA agent and James McAvoy as a brash, morally ambiguous British operative stationed in Berlin.
As she displayed in Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron is a phenomenal physical performer, taking on the bulk of her own stunts. Atomic Blonde‘s action is intense and dynamic, with a showstopping extended fight sequence near the end of film that is stunning in its choreography and long-take camerawork. Leitch co-directed 2014’s surprise hit John Wick, and Atomic Blonde echoes that film’s penchant for elaborate, gracefully brutal fight scenes, this time tailored to Theron’s significant skills. Leitch’s action clicks because it reminds viewers that the characters, though formidable and highly-trained, are still human; they get bruised, broken and tired, struggling to stay on their feet toward the end of a long fight.
Though there are stretches that do little more than plod along, Atomic Blonde crackles with enough intensity and style to make the experience worthwhile, and I’d love to see Leitch and Theron step back into this world with a sharper, more focused narrative.