I didn’t want to see “Atomic Blonde” for the intrigue or the fight scenes. I confess that I wanted to go for the soundtrack. My daughter Emma and I are mad for 1980s New Wave and this movie promised Charlize Theron kicking butt to songs by New Order and Depeche Mode.
Theron is Lorraine Broughton, a British spy who is so cool that when we first see her she is soaking in a bathtub full of ice. She’s covered in bruises and we learn why in flashback as she’s interrogated by her boss (Toby Jones) and a CIA operative played by the always-fabulous John Goodman.
“Atomic Blonde” (R), is set in 1989 Berlin right as The Wall is set to collapse. Lorraine is sent there to retrieve a list of undercover operatives before it gets in the wrong hands.
In an exciting and violent car chase, Lorraine not-so-neatly dispatches a couple of bad guys who are after her but I’m not sure why. After that, it’s one fight after another with more bad guys who are after Lorraine, the list or both.
It all leads up to a positively epic fight scene as Lorraine attempts to transport Spyglass, a scientist (I think) who has memorized “The List” which is also in a watch. Now, Amanda isn’t a big fan of violence, but this scene which goes on for about 15 minutes, appears to be one take (but isn’t), and is like nothing you’ve seen on film. The choreography is astounding but it’s also brutally real. The combatants gasp for breath, grasp for any weapon they can find, scream in pain. They fight up the stairs, in an apartment, down the stairs. It’s grueling and exhilarating.
Director David Leitch is a former stuntman and stunt coordinator and the uncredited co-director of the hit action film “John Wick.” Theron, a former ballet dancer, did not use a double for the majority of the action scenes. This is almost as impressive to me as her black and white wardrobe and envy-inducing footwear.
I wish the plot of “Atomic Blonde” was as well-crafted as the fight scenes. I’m still not sure who was good and who was evil and I was totally lost for approximately 38 minutes. McAvoy certainly looked like he enjoyed playing the rogue agent and Sofia Boutella (“The Mummy”) is an intriguing diversion as a French spy with more than a passing interest in Lorraine. While “Atomic Blonde” is far from perfect, Theron, the soundtrack and that fight scene, make it worth the ticket.
Remember in “Saving Private Ryan” how just one scene of a soldier talking about his girlfriend made you care so much that when he was killed off you went for the Kleenex? That’s Stephen Spielberg’s gift, making us fall in love with characters no matter how much screen time they get.
I see director Christopher Nolan as the anti-Spielberg. I can’t remember one character from his films “Interstellar” or “Inception” even though I’m fairly certain I saw both films. His films are always visually stunning and bold, but lacking in the warmth department.
Nolan wrote and directed “Dunkirk,” (PG-13) the true story of how in 1940 a fleet of British civilian boats aided the Royal Navy in rescuing more than 300,000 British, French and Dutch soldiers trapped in France.
Nolan is big on non-linear story structure and covering Tom Hardy’s exceptionally handsome face in some sort of mask (see “The Dark Knight Rises). Here Hardy plays an RAF pilot, wearing an, I’m sure historically accurate face mask, while trying to down enemy planes. Meanwhile a British soldier (Fionn Whitehead) escapes death a couple of times, ending up on the beach at Dunkirk where he befriends a soldier who doesn’t talk. With no official rescue mission, it’s up to regular gents like Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his teenage son to evacuate the soldiers.
“Dunkirk” conveys how frightening it is to be stranded and helpless while bombs drop from the sky, how scary it is to be engaged in an air fight while your fuel is dwindling and how desperate soldiers can turn against their comrades.
While the story of Dunkirk is undeniably compelling and the visuals are extraordinary, I felt rather underwhelmed because I didn’t really care about anyone. It didn’t help that the three main soldiers looked more-or-less alike and had very little dialogue. I had no idea that the main character’s name was “Tommy” until the credits.
Nobody gets a backstory, a girlfriend back home, a family. I understand that Nolan might have wanted to avoid cliches and the whole “Private Ryan” thing, but give us a little something will you? And it would have been nice to see at least one other civilian crew who joined the evacuation effort so we could get an idea of why they risked their lives on this mission. Maybe then the scene where the boats arrive on the pier, would have more dramatic impact. While “Dunkirk” is a fine film, I’ll take Spielberg and a box of Kleenex every time.
Atomic Blonde: 3 1/2 Stars
Dunkirk: 3 1/2 Stars