Atomic Blonde

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - DAN LYBARGER

It was said of Ginger Rogers that she must have been a bet­ter dancer than Fred As­taire be­cause she did ev­ery­thing he did back­wards and in heels.

One won­ders if the same could be said for Char­l­ize Theron hav­ing to fol­low in the bloody foot­steps of Keanu Reeves. Both look great beat­ing up or shoot­ing an­tag­o­nists in di­rec­tor David Leitch’s ( John Wick) ac­tion movies, but her less- than- er­gonomic footwear makes her on- screen hand- to­hand com­bat seem more im­pres­sive.

Leitch has worked as a stunt­man, and he knows how to stage ac­tion. In Atomic Blonde, he finds in 1989 Berlin a nearly ideal en­vi­ron­ment for pho­to­genic blood­shed.

As the film’s open­ing frames re­mind us, the wall that split the city for nearly three decades is about to come down. While the world now knows what hap­pened on Nov. 9, the fate of Ger­many and the cold war­riors who roamed the

streets of the di­vided city didn’t seem so ob­vi­ous then.

Just about ev­ery in­tel­li­gence agency in the world is try­ing to get a list of dou­ble agents ob­tained by a shad­owy fig­ure known as “Spy­glass” (Ed­die Marsan). MI6 has al­ready lost an agent in pur­suit of the list, so they send Lor­raine Broughton ( Theron) to find out how her fel­low op­er­a­tive died, what Spy­glass knows and, while she’s at it, de­ter­mine the iden­tity of a mys­te­ri­ous dou­ble agent known as “Satchel.”

Oh, and of course, it’s more com­pli­cated than that. The cur­rent MI6 agent run­ning Berlin is David Per­ci­val (a won­der­fully sleazy James McAvoy), who seems more like a hip­ster frat boy than a spy. Thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of ine­bri­a­tion and good old-fash­ioned du­plic­ity, he’s as un­trust­wor­thy as the folks on the other side of the Iron Cur­tain.

Broughton’s mis­sion, which screen­writer Kurt John­stad ( 300) has adapted from An­thony John­ston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Cold­est City, is ex­pect­edly loaded with twists and re­ver­sals and a great deal of ex­po­si­tion. While 1989 Berlin makes a ter­rific back­drop for a spy thriller, most of the film’s tar­get de­mo­graphic weren’t around when the Wall fell, much less when Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan de­manded its re­moval.

To drive home the era, there are tons of ’80s tunes play­ing in the back­ground. Leitch and com­pany use the mu­sic cues to link por­tions of the story that might not make sense oth­er­wise. The spies are sup­posed to be con­fused. We aren’t.

Once the mu­sic stops and some­times while it’s still play­ing, Leitch and Theron un­leash a se­ries of cre­ative acts of vi­o­lence. If Broughton doesn’t have a pis­tol handy, she uses house­hold ob­jects to pro­tect her­self and others.

Her way of deal­ing with Berlin cops in an apart­ment com­plex is as imag­i­na­tive as it is bru­tal. The movie be­gins with Broughton nurs­ing her mul­ti­ple wounds in a bath of ice wa­ter, and it is fun to find out how much worse the bad guys got it.

Theron’s ac­tion star cre­den­tials were es­tab­lished in Mad Max: Fury Road, and she bur­nishes them here. Thank­fully, some of the sup­port­ing cast are fun, too. Sofia Boutella (who was the only good thing in The Mummy) is an oddly ca­pa­ble but cu­ri­ously naive French agent who stalks Broughton, and John Good­man is de­light­fully cagey as a CIA ob­server.

Thank­fully, Leitch doesn’t ask the big guy to do Theron’s stunts or wear her slinky out­fits.

Lor­raine Broughton (Char­l­ize Theron) en­dures and deals out a lot of pain in David Leitch’s vi­o­lent spy thriller Atomic Blonde.

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