From Berlin, With Love
Although Atomic Blonde does suffer from an unnecessarily complicated story, it more than makes up for its shortfalls with some breathtaking action scenes and some slick camera work. The characters on offer here, with the exception of lead lady Lorraine (Charlize Theron) and charismatic David Percival (James McAvoy), are regrettably forgettable but if you take the story with a pinch of salt, there’s a lot to like with this spy thriller.
The story follows Lorraine, an undercover MI6 agent working in Berlin during the Cold War at the height of tensions before the Berlin Wall comes crashing down. The backdrop of the wall separating West and East Berlin is intriguing, offering something different and a refreshing different setting than the usual LA / New York / UK settings that dominate these sort of films. Beyond the news stories depicting the political tensions and one particular action set piece that use a protest as a set piece, Berlin is pretty inconsequential to the outcome of the story that could easily have been set anywhere. The plot itself revolves around Lorraine, who’s sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent whilst working to recover a list of double agents. On paper, this should work as a good cat-and-mouse spy thriller but its made unnecessarily complicated by a bloated script that tries to be clever when a simpler story could have made parts of the film more enjoyable.
Fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) brings some much needed charisma to the film though and works well alongside Lorraine. His charm certainly elevates the quieter segments and his sporadic, shady persona works alongside the other characters shown, hiding the shortfalls with their writing. A lot of the supporting cast aren’t given much characterisation with the focus solely on the two lead actors through vast periods of this film.
Its worth noting too that there’s some slick camera work and some very nice editing throughout. One particular action scene is incredibly well done, featuring a one shot camera with no cuts as Lorraine fights numerous thugs up and down a staircase. This ten minute segment is visceral, brutal and accentuated by a distinct lack of music that gives the action a raw feel to it. On the same note, there’s a great use of colour throughout, with blues and reds contrasting beautifully, making the scenes really pop and stand out. Atomic Blonde also boasts an impressive soundtrack, with a good mix of 80s electronica and rock hits as a backdrop to the ensuing action.
Overall then, Atomic Blonde is an interesting one to review. On the one hand, its a great action flick that can really be enjoyed if you switch off and take the story with a pinch of salt. Its impressively shot, features a great soundtrack and the lighting is really very good throughout. Unfortunately, the story is frustratingly convoluted and with the exception of the two lead actors, most of the characters are forgettable and under-developed. The action is the main draw here, and if you can look past the story and character issues, Atomic Blonde is an enjoyable film. Its not perfect and its certainly one of those titles that will divide opinion but technically, Atomic Blonde gets a lot right which helps to overshadow some of the issues holding it back from being a great film.