Sunday, May 6, 2018

Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear - A Review of Atomic Blonde

A still from the nightclub scene in Atomic Blonde. Here, Lorraine Broughton makes contact with Delphine Lasalle, a French operative.

Atomic Blonde is a Spy Thriller that delivers; it portrays Berlin during a time of Great Change

The music is pounding. The dancefloor is packed with swaying bodies. And the drinks are flowing. Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) Atomic Blonde's protagonist, orders a Stoli on Ice as she meets Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) a French intelligence operative with key information.

Or so it seems. Nothing is straightforward in David Leitch's expertly crafted spy thriller set during the dying days of the Cold War on the conflict's front line - the divided city of Berlin. The plot is set in motion by the death of James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave). At the time of his death Gascoine is in possession of a very special watch containing the names of Secret Agents working for the East and West.

Said watch also contains the identity of Satchel, a double agent who has been playing both sides. As 'C' (James Faulkner) head of MI6 and Lorraine's boss, points out, "If the Russians get that list we're all buggered. Sideways."

This exposition introduces us to the plot's Maltese Falcon. The thing that everyone is after, no matter what side they're fighting for. As the characters work to recover the watch from a rogue Stasi officer who killed Gascoine to acquire it, they show why the spy business is such brutal, unsentimental work. I lost track of all the lies and double crossings by film's end. Even the relationship between Lorraine and David Percival (James McAvoy) is not what it seems. And they both work for the Brits.

Looming tall over the plot is the impending Fall of the Wall. The American intelligence community, portrayed here by John Goodman's character Emmett Kurzfeld, seem particularly certain that Berlin's hated divider is just days away from being torn down, piece by piece.

It is the nearness of this event that motivates the characters to double cross and / or kill each other to obtain the watch and uncover Satchel's identity. At one point Lorraine is followed into a movie theater in East Berlin's Alexanderplatz. As Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker is screening she works to evade the Stasi's thugs. The violence in this scene and others is pulpy and visceral. Blood is spilled, people are maimed. Lorraine Broughton has more than her fair share of brushes with death.

Atomic Blonde's violence is the most American aspect of a movie set in Europe's new Capitol of Cool. Surprisingly there is only one sex scene. Which is a shame because enjoying sex is a very Berlin thing; shootouts in apartment stairwells much less so.

I will not spoil how the movie ends, suffice to say that all the crossings and double crossings prepare you for a big reveal before the credits roll.

For me, the three best things about this movie are: Theron's acting, the music, and the 'wow' effect of Berlin bathed in cool neon. The colour scheme is consistent throughout - everyone immersed in vivid blues, purples, and reds. Contrasting with London, where Broughton's debriefing is taking place while she recalls the events of days earlier. That city is depicted in cool whites, deep blacks, and greys that make London appear antiseptic. Especially when contrasted with Berlin's colours and rocking 80s' soundtrack - pure ear candy.

You will enjoy this movie if you're a fan of action flicks and 1980s' pop music. (I particularly love how Re-Flex's The Politics of Dancing is used). You'll really love it if you enjoy being in Berlin, a city about to go through another period of great change.

In Oktober werde ich in Berlin leben. Ich sehe eine gute Zukunft in Deutschland.

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