Monday 18th December, 2017

Atomic Blonde

Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad(based on the Oni Press graphic novel series The Coldest City written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart)
Stars: Charlize Theron (Lorraine Broughton), James McAvoy (David Percival), Eddie Marsan (Spyglass), John Goodman (Emmett Kurzfeld), Toby Jones (Eric Gray), James Faulkner (Chief “C”), Roland Møller (Aleksander Bremovych), Sofia Boutella (Delphine Lasalle), Bill Skarsgård (Merkel), Sam Hargrave (James Gasciogne)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2017
Country: U.S. / Germany / Sweden
Atomic Blonde Blu-ray
Atomic Blonde

About halfway through Atomic Blonde there is a genuinely stunning action sequence that unfolds in real time in what appears to be a single tracking shot. The protagonist, an MI6 agent named Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is in Cold War-divided Berlin trying to help an asset escape from the East to the West, and she finds herself in an apartment building protecting herself and the asset by fighting off half a dozen armed Russian assassins. Most of the action unfolds in a stairwell, and the camera remains tethered to Broughton as she engages the assassins in hand-to-hand combat using everything at her disposal, including virtually every hard edge of her body, a knife, several guns, a lamp, and a hotplate. It is a genuinely astonishing, bravura-brutal sequence that is all the more exhilarating and punishing for its relentless sense of progression. Broughton is fierce and furious in action—we have already seen this in several previous fight sequences—but she is also human, so she slowly tires from both physical exertion and blood loss, and by the end of the sequence she is barely standing, much less throwing punches and or swiping legs.

If only the rest of the film were so good. Directed by stunt/fight coordinator-turned-filmmaker David Leitch, who previously co-directed John Wick (2014), Atomic Blonde has style to spare and a canonic soundtrack of ’80s New Wave pop, which is used primarily to paper over a tired espionage plot and paper-thin characters. Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela (a veteran of John Wick and many a Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Kanye West music video) turn every sequence into its own hyper-stylized cartoon, which range from grungy desaturation, to intensely neon-lit interiors that are reminiscent of either Italian gialli or a disco (or both). The film is all slick and heady surface, and as long as you give in to the intoxication of the visuals, you might be distracted enough to ignore the grinding plot machinations and lack of genuine character appeal.

This is not to say that the actors don’t give it their all. As Broughton, Theron has a tricky assignment in portraying a hardened, tough-as-nails veteran agent while still maintaining some sense of humanity. Unfortunately, she leans heavily on the former with a lot of hard stares and low-voiced dialogue, which is effective in suggesting a world-weary sense of toughness; her humanity is reserved largely for the steamy relationship she develops with a relatively naïve French agent named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), which unfortunately plays more like a cheap soft-core interlude than real human connection. The script by Kurt Johnstad (300), which is based on the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, is mostly perfunctory, with dialogue and action constantly moving things forward, but without any sense of eloquence or wit (the title change, which sacrifices subtle literary inflection of the word cold for bold exploitation marquee value, is telling).

The plot, which is set in November of 1989 just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is structured around an interview, in which Broughton, bearing all the bruises and cuts from the forthcoming action sequences, recounts her experience in Berlin trying to move an asset named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who has memorized an important list, to an officious MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and a corrupt CIA agent (John Goodman). A significant part of the story involves Broughton’s work with David Percival (James McAvoy), a fellow MI6 agent who has been embedded in the Berlin underworld for so long that his superiors are afraid that he has “gone native,” so to speak, and lost any sense of his true purpose. McAvoy injects some life and danger into the proceedings, but it’s ultimately not enough to save Atomic Blonde from its own world-weary sense of familiarity.

Atomic Blonde Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
Audio
  • English DTS:X
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • French DTS 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese DTS 5.1 surround
  • Spanish DTS 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director David Leitch and editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir
  • “Anatomy of a Fight Scene” featurette
  • “Blondes Have More Gun” featurette
  • “Welcome to Berlin” featurette
  • “Spymaster” featurette
  • “Story in Motion” animated storyboards with optional director commentary
  • Deleted scenes
  • DistributorUniversal Pictures
    SRP$34.98
    Release DateNovember 14, 2017

    COMMENTS
    As you might expect, Atomic Blonde looks positively stunning in high definition on Universal’s Blu-ray. The film’s visuals are by far its best asset, and the transfer maintains the wide range of palettes employed by director David Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela to convey the grays of the bitter, wintry cold of Berlin in November and the warmth of the neon-lit interiors. The image is sharp, well-detailed, and lacking in compression artifacts. The DTS:X surround soundtrack is likewise magnificent, whether it be pumping the film’s impressive line-up of late ’80s pop hits by the likes of Depeche Mode, New Order, and George Michael or conveying all the skull cracking, bone breaking, and blood spattering of the various action sequences. In terms of both sound and image, this disc is a definite go-to if you want to show off your home entertainment system. The supplements are also quite good, starting with a solid audio commentary by Leitch and editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. There are also several behind-the-scenes featurettes, some of which are better than others. “Anatomy of a Fight Scene” (8 min) uses picture-in-picture to explore the creation of that amazing “oner” fight scene; you essentially watch the fight scene with Leitch commenting on it, while the picture-in-picture shows either him or footage of rehearsals or the filming of the scene itself. “Blondes Have More Gun” (7 min) focuses on the work Charlize Theron did to train for the fight sequences; “Welcome to Berlin” (5 min) is a brief exploration of how the production design team transformed parts of Budapest into Cold War Berlin; and “Spymaster (4 min) is a throwaway paean to Leitch. Also on the disc are a pair of animated storyboards with optional director commentary and six deleted scenes that run about 7 minutes total.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Universal Pictures

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

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