Wake me up when it’s gone, gone

Stun­ning fight se­quences can’t res­cue a film with such a thin grasp on its set­ting

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE


Di­rected by David Leitch Star­ring Char­l­ize Theron, James McAvoy, John Good­man, Til Sch­weiger, Ed­die Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones 16 cert, gen re­lease, 115 min

If ever there were a film that you wished were just a lit­tle bit bet­ter, then Atomic Blonde is it. Just a lit­tle. Is that too much to ask? Char­l­ize Theron works fu­ri­ously to bring some small weight to a char­ac­ter so feath­ery she barely man­ages to re­main at­tached to the screen. The ac­tion se­quences are stun­ning. But the outer frame­work is un­for­giv­ably shabby: a thread­bare es­pi­onage plot mounted on a mass of em­bar­rass­ingly clunky 1980s pe­riod de­tail. They stopped short of hav­ing Boy Ge­orge at­tempt to run Char­l­ize over with a Sin­clair C5. But I’m bet­ting it was a close-run thing.

Let us give credit where it is due. As we might ex­pect from David Leitch, co-di­rec­tor of John Wick, the fight se­quences are fast, crunchy, bal­letic and nu­mer­ous. The film is worth see­ing alone for one enor­mous faked “single shot” that, over a jar­ring 10 min­utes, finds Theron fight­ing her way up and down the stair­case of a grungy Ber­lin build­ing and then out into the street for an ex­tended car chase.

It mat­ters not a whit that the se­quence was ac­tu­ally patched to­gether from nearly 40 shots. The flu­id­ity is as­ton­ish­ing. The grace of the vi­o­lence of­fers guilty thrills. Theron and her dou­bles move with a pre­ci­sion that con­firms nobody is pre­tend­ing this is what ac­tual fisticuffs look like. It’s a clas­sic.

Al­most every­thing else about the pic­ture is rub­bish. In what looks like a point­less al­lu­sion to To­mas Al­fred­son’s Tin­ker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy, Toby Jones is cast as a se­nior MI6 of­fi­cial tasked with de­brief­ing agent Theron in a padded room that looks very like that in the Le Carré adap­ta­tion. It is 1989 and the spooks are try­ing to re­cover a vi­tal list be­fore the Wall comes down. If they don’t then some­thing will hap­pen that even those view­ers who re­main awake will have trou­ble car­ing about. John Good­man is an Amer­i­can. James McAvoy is an English­man who says: “Do the math” (spoiler: that doesn’t turn out to be a clue).

All these peo­ple move through a ver­sion of 1989 that looks to have been de­signed by some­body who once heard some­body talk about a Du­ran Du­ran video, but who has never ac­tu­ally seen one. The mu­sic would be pound­ingly ob­vi­ous – Nena, Falco, Depeche Mode – if it weren’t so of­ten plucked from the wrong end of the decade. And the fash­ion? Who was still wear­ing a Boy T-shirt in 1989?

Wake me up when it’s gone, gone.

Blonde in Ber­lin

Char­l­ize Theron and Sofia Boutella

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