Thursday, August 24, 2017

Atomic Blonde

Berlin, 1989. As the world prepares to bear witness to the historic fall of the wall and the country’s eventual reunification, top-level MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is dispatched to retrieve a list that will expose the identities of all active agents in the field. She is tracked and ambushed by the KGB right after landing at Tempelhof, prompting her to believe that there must be a double agent sabotaging the mission. She is welcomed by David Percival (James McAvoy), a hedonistic agent who has been stationed in the city for the last decade or so. She is also persistently stalked by mysterious photographer Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) who warns her about her partner. Broughton is well aware that she is operating in a world of friendly faces that will betray her in the blink of an eye. Unwilling to trust anyone, she must find that list and cross over to West Berlin before it’s too late.

The cinematography is superb. It’s not just the lighting and the angles but also the gritty texture that grabs your attention. If you watch this film on your laptop, take random screenshots, print the stills and frame them, you can so hang those around your house and it will be totally artsy. Those shots of Theron just standing in the middle of her colorful hotel room with headphones on make you feel as though you were watching a music video. Perhaps it serves as a homage of sorts to the MTV era.

Combined with the nostalgic beats of the undeniably 80’s soundtrack, Atomic Blonde just transports you back to an exciting period of Berlin’s history that you only get to read about in history books. Excitement is in the air. Everyone is agit. The depiction might suffer from some inaccuracies, but the setting is convincing enough for you to give a damn. If you have developed a certain fascination for the city, then this movie will be a real treat for you, a reimagining of an era that can no longer be relived.

This film cements Theron’s status as a legit action star. Angelina Jolie can retire now. The problem with films helmed by kickass women is that, yes, they are allowed to beat up the men and defeat them, but they must always do so with finesse and a cute pout, topped with an obligatory hair flip. You get some traces of that template in Atomic Blonde as well, but Theron and her team raise the bar to a whole new level. Perhaps it is the raw treatment of the fight scenes that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. That fight sequence at the staircase alone is already a good indication that you are watching something that totally veers away from the traditional treatment of strong female leads onscreen.

Theron is punched in the face, falls down the stairs, kicked in the abs, thrown on a desk. The list just goes on and on that when she gets interviewed on TV and says that she needed to have her teeth surgically fixed because she broke them during filming, you just believe her. Every grunt she lets out after getting hit or landing on her back is convincing. You know she is doing that not because the script said so, but because you can see how physically straining those scenes are. In the end, you see her with a nasty black eye, her face bruised all over, and her blonde locks smeared with maple red no thanks to the bloody encounter. Yes, Theron is pretty, but she convinces you in this movie that she can and will kick your ass if she has to, so you better run.

Discussing the film’s box office performance is a tricky thing to do. A mediocre Angelina Jolie starrer with the same storyline and theme could easily cross the $100-million-mark back in the day. That this movie grossed less than that in the global box office is rather disappointing, but with a budget not exceeding $40M, this is actually considered as a success. Timing might have been the culprit, coming on the heels of Wonder Woman and all that. Most critics loved it, though, so that’s definitely a good thing. At least Theron will be motivated to produce more edgy action flicks in the near future, participating either as a producer or as an actress.

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