Friday, May 04, 2018
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnson and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde is the story of a spy who travels to East Berlin to find a list of double agents before the collapse of the Berlin Wall during the final days of the Cold War. Directed by David Leitch and screenplay by Kurt Johnstad, the film is a spy thriller of sorts where a woman finds herself dealing with dark forces that want to stop during a crucial moment in world history. Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, and Toby Jones. Atomic Blonde is a high-octane yet exhilarating film from David Leitch.
Set in November of 1989 during the final days of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the film revolves around a British spy who travels to Berlin before the wall’s collapse to retrieve a list of double agents that was in the hands of another spy. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it’s told in a reflective flashback style by its protagonist Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) who is interrogated by her superior in MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfield (John Goodman) over what happened in Berlin as much of the action takes place more than a week earlier where Broughton learns a fellow colleague had been killed as he had a list of double-agents in East Berlin that the Soviet Union wants. Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay plays into the back-and-forth narrative of Broughton telling her story of what had happened as she had been sent by Gray and MI6 boss C (James Faulkner) to travel to West Berlin before the wall is to collapse where she meets her contact in another MI6 agent in David Percival (James McAvoy) to help her retrieve the list.
Percival is an eccentric figure who spends time dealing in black markets in East Berlin as well as live in West Berlin as he is trying to get the list as well as a Stasi defector named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) to West Berlin as he knows the names on the list that was hidden in a watch from the MI6 agent who had been killed. During the course of finding out what happened and to find this watch, Broughton is aware that she’s a target as there’s KGB spies in both East and West Berlin as she had also been warned about a double-agent named Satchel who might be causing trouble for all sides. At the same time, she meets a rookie French spy named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) who also wants the list but also knows that there’s something not right in the scheme of things. Even as there’s also rogue KGB agents that want the list and sell it off for a lot of money no matter who gets it making Broughton’s mission much more difficult.
David Leitch’s direction is definitely stylish in terms of the setting as it play into a moment in time where the world is about to change as there are those who aren’t ready for this kind of change. Shot on location in Berlin with additional shooting set in Budapest, the film does play into a world that is changing yet there’s also something exciting over the element of rule breaking and chaos that is to emerge. While Leitch does include many of Berlin’s famous landmarks including a few shots of the re-created Berlin Wall with graffiti sprayed on the wall. Much of Leitch’s direction emphasize on the sense of intrigue as well as who is trying to con who and who can be the one to get the list first as Leitch would use close-ups and medium shots for these moments without emphasizing too much on style. There are some wide shots Leitch use in not just to establish the locations or what is happening in a moment in time but also in some intense set pieces that relate to the action including a scene where Broughton is in a car and fighting against a couple of KGB officers trying to kill her.
One key sequence in the film during the second act is an intricate fight scene set inside a building where Broughton is fighting against several KGB officers as it is presented in a long continuous shot with tracking and hand-held cameras. It’s a moment in the film that really showcases what Broughton has to do as the stakes of her mission becomes important yet there are also these twists and turns as it relates to the people she encounters as there are very few she can really trust. Notably as the scenes where she’s interrogated as she knows she’s being watched emphasize what she knows and what she doesn’t want to reveal as it does add to this blur of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Overall, Leitch crafts a thrilling and gripping film about a British spy traveling to Berlin to retrieve a list of double agents before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Cinematographer Jonathan Sela does brilliant with the film’s colorful cinematography with its usage of bluish lights and moods for some of the interior scenes as well as the usage of neon lights in the clubs as well as other stylish looks for some of the daytime exterior scenes. Editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir does excellent work with the editing with the usage of stylish fast-cuts without being too fast as well as some amazing invisible cuts for the film’s continuous fight sequence. Production designer David Scheunemann, with supervising art director Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner plus set decorators Zsuzsa Mihalek and Mark Rosinski, does fantastic work with the look of the clubs in Berlin as well as the apartments and places the characters go to or live at. Costume designer Cindy Evans does nice work with the costumes as it is stylish from the coats the characters wear to the Soviet and Stasi uniforms some of the officials wear.
Hair/makeup designer Paul Pattison does terrific work with the look of the characters from the different wigs and hairstyles that Broughton wears as well as the look of some of the people she meets. Special effects supervisor Gabor Kiszelly and visual effects supervisor Michael Wortmann do superb work with the visual effects as it is mainly set-dressing for some of the exteriors along with a few of the film’s action scenes. Sound designer Jonas Jansson, with sound editors Thomas Huhn and Nicklas Lindh, does amazing work with the sound in capturing the way music sounds in a club or on speakers as well as through the audio tapes that Broughton uses to spy on people and how she would cut the tapes to create what she discovered. The film’s music by Tyler Bates is wonderful for its electronic-based score that play into the action and suspense while music supervisor John Houlihan provides a kick-ass soundtrack of music that definitely play into the period of the 1980s from artists and acts like New Order, David Bowie, Queen, Depeche Mode, Information Society, the Reflex, After the Fire, Nena, Peter Schilling, Til’ Tuesday, A Flock of Seagulls, the Clash, George Michael, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and Public Enemy along with covers by Health, Marilyn Manson, and Kaleida plus a couple of Eastern European music of the times.
The casting by Zsolt Csutak, Marisol Roncali, and Mary Vernieu is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Barbara Sukowa as a coroner of the spy who is killed earlier in the film, Sam Hargrave as the MI6 agent James Gascoigne who is killed in the film’s beginning, Johannes Johannesson as the rogue KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin, Roland Moller as a high ranking Soviet official in Aleksander Bremovych, James Faulkner as the MI6 head C, Bill Skarsgard as Broughton’s East German contact in Gordon Merkel, and Til Schweiger in a terrific small role as a reclusive watchmaker who creates special watches with codes as he helps out Broughton. Toby Jones and John Goodman are superb in their respective roles as MI6 superior Eric Gray and CIA official Emmett Kurzfield who interrogate Broughton over what happened in Berlin with the latter also making a brief appearance in West Berlin to give Broughton a debriefing.
Eddie Marsan is excellent as Spyglass as Stasi officer who wants to defect to the West as he knows the names of the double-agents where he becomes someone that Broughton has to protect. Sofia Boutella is fantastic as Delphine Lasalle as a French agent who is also after the list but also has feelings for Broughton as well as be aware of what is going on as she also has an idea of who the mysterious Satchel is. James McAvoy is brilliant as David Percival as a MI6 agent who aids Broughton as he also runs a black markets scheme in East Berlin as it’s an exciting performance from McAvoy who provides a lot of humor and swagger into his performance. Finally, there’s Charlize Theron in a phenomenal performance as Lorraine Broughton as a MI6 spy who goes to Berlin to retrieve a list as it’s an intense performance from Theron who brings some charm as well as a grittiness to the role as a woman who is hell-bent on succeeding in her mission as well as deal with what is at stake as it’s Theron in one of her career-defining performances.
Atomic Blonde is a tremendous film from David Leitch that features an incredible leading performance from Charlize Theron. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, intense fight scenes, and a killer music soundtrack. The film is definitely a fun and thrilling action-suspense film set during the final days of the Cold War that is filled with intrigue and excitement. In the end, Atomic Blonde is a spectacular film from David Leitch.
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