Review – This Movie Goes Nuclear (“Atomic Blonde”)

What happens when you break your hand during a movie and then have to move on to another? Simple! Make it part of your character! James McAvoy busted his hand while filming Split, so that cast you see him wearing in Atomic Blonde isn’t a prop. It’s very real and necessary. Ah, the magic of movies!


(*Spoilers ahead*)

Remember the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989? Utter chaos and turmoil ruled the day; that plus raucous 80’s rock music, constant cigarette smoking, and Cold War spy tactics. In a plot that combines The Usual Suspects and Mission: Impossible, something went terribly wrong when a spy was sent to Berlin to retrieve a stolen list of double agents and to find the infamous Satchel, a mysterious MI-6 rogue agent. A British MI-6 spy, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), bruised, battered, and beaten is being interrogated after that assignment by Eric Gray (Toby Jones), her superior, and Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), a CIA liaison.

We ping-pong back and forth from the interview to what happened ten days prior: Lorraine was sent to West Berlin to find CIA operative, David Percival (McAvoy), who’s been in Berlin so long he’s gone feral and deals in the East Berlin black market (Levi jeans, Jack Daniels whiskey, rock ‘n’ roll cassettes). But their alliance isn’t an easy one as David is more interested in smuggling out a man called Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who says he’s memorized the entire missing agent list. As Lorraine finds out more about who might have the stolen list (and beating the crap out of people who try and stop her), she meets Delphine LaSalle (Sofia Boutella), a newbie French operative.

Inexplicably, the two hit it off, and share some (*ahem*) quality time together. Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse with David being more evasive with Lorraine, making her have her doubts as to his loyalty to whatever side he SAYS he belongs to. When it’s clear that Lorraine isn’t getting that stolen list anytime soon, she agrees with his Plan B: get Spyglass out of East Berlin and into the hands of MI-6 for safekeeping. With the added help of Merkel (Bill Skarsgard), who runs the underground, everything starts out okay, but soon things go very, very bad.

The third act begins with a jaw-dropping, knock-down, drag-out shoot ’em-up, worthy of any John Wick/Jason Bourne fight with Lorraine vs some nasty thugs in (not quite sure here) a long one-take epic blood-carnage fest. I cringed and gasped at the ‘pain’ and marveled at the expert camerawork; it was awesome to behold and worth the admission price alone. There’s a double-mcguffin waiting in the wings that I won’t reveal, but suffice to say, it’s a real corker (and bloodbath) of a finale.

Based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City, by Antony Johnson and Sam Hart, this long screenplay by Kurt Johnstad (300, Act of Valor), is about 20 minutes too long, but thank goodness David Leitch (John Wick) knows how to direct this movie with a Guy Ritchie sense of flair and fun. And let’s not forget his fight camerawork, which is pitch-perfect, allowing us to see every brutal, exquisite detail. No smash-cuts, quick-edits, or lousy jiggly camera moves here; that’s Charlize beating those stunt guys and busting her ribs in the process.

While the story itself is convoluted and takes a while to get going, the Berlin Wall and the 80’s rock soundtrack have a nice historical flavor to it, but all in all, the espionage bits weren’t nearly as gripping as they should have been. McAvoy gives a strong performance as someone whose obviously gone off the deep end, while Theron is playing to her strengths as a silent James Bond-ish type killer. Then there’s the controversial ‘girl-on-girl’ soft-porn sex scene (a hot topic of the movie), which is just a minor plot point and hardly worth all the hype. Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing…

The Usual Suspects (1995)

When you talk about the perfect marriage of script, actor, and director in a movie, there are only a handful of films that come to mind. This is one of them. A brilliant, intelligent script by Christopher McQuarrie, a bunch of seasoned pros like Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, and Pete Postlethwaite, and directed with panache by Bryan Singer.

Told in flashbacks via a police interrogation, we are introduced to Roger “Verbal” Kint (Spacey), a con man with cerebral palsy who played a part in a major blood bath aboard a docked ship with his other crime partners, all of whom are now dead. U.S. Customs Special Agent Dave Kujan (Palminteri) and police Sergeant Jeffrey Rabin (Dan Hedaya) question Verbal over what happened, while the only survivor on-board, a burnt-up Hungarian mobster, is mumbling something about some guy named Keyser Soze.

Verbal weaves a tapestry of tales to the officers of the events that led him and the gang to that point. He talks about his buddies: the leader, Dean Keaton (Byrne), hit-man Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), mumbling Fred Fenster (Benecio Del Toro), and planner Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack) and the various crimes they pulled off in NYC and in California for some hood called Redfoot, which went terribly wrong.

But things got worse when they discovered that they ripped off the infamous and legendary Keyser Soze, a “mobster ghost story you tell your kids”. Uh-oh! Informed by Soze’s lieutenant, Mr. Kobayashi (Postlethwaite), they are all dead men… unless they pull off a seemingly impossible and dangerous heist. The job? That Hungarian ship docked at the waterfront. And the story comes full circle with Verbal outlining what happened and Kujan piecing together the clues as to who Keyser Soze really is. Through a break down and replaying the events, Kujan concludes that Keaton was Soze all along!

Shocked and visibly shaken, Verbal can’t believe the truth. He’s told to leave, but the movie doesn’t end there, not by a long-shot. The ending is one of cinema’s greatest gifts to film. McQuarrie has written some great screenplays (Jack Reacher, Valkyrie) and some read duds (Jack the Giant Slayer, The Tourist), but this one was pure gold. Aside from the gratuitous f-bombs, the sparkling dialogue was rich, real, and very salty. And that ending! OH! That ending! The acting was top-notch across the board, and Singer’s directing was terrific. Rent it again. It’s so worth it.      

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