Tuesday, August 15, 2017

CURRENT REELS: DAVID LEITCH'S "ATOMIC BLONDE"

Berlin kitsch has never looked this delectably vibrant. The saturated backdrop for Charlize Theron's femme fatale action star vehicle is so intricate, so lofty in its composition, it easily overtakes her as the real headliner of Atomic Blonde (2017). A cultural, visual extravaganza indeed.

Yet, this is where the awe ends for me, because the narrative and character motivation are not fleshed out as best they could be, despite the heroine's commendable chutzpah. I remember Theron stating that her character's motivation was deliberately vague, as if to take the focus off the usual revenge flick trope, where a lover or family member are fatally hurt, and the hero/heroine must embark on a quest to avenge their death. The fatally hurt lover is briefly acknowledged here, and may be the initial motivation for Lorraine Broughton's venture into Berlin, but it evolves into something bigger, paralleling the historic events in the East prior to the fall of the Wall. Lorraine is an agent, but is she a double agent? A triple agent? The climax blankets the viewer in an array of espionage possibilities, but I can't say the "Aha!" moment had me emotionally invested. It was merely an afterthought to an already bloated plot trajectory. At my most superficial, I was distracted by all the work Theron had done to her face since Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), which was glaringly obvious in every unforgiving close-up.

Atomic Blonde had a lot going for it - fantastic title sequence, pulsating soundtrack, commendable stunt choreography, and costume design to die for - adding aural, spatial, and textural depth that leapt off the screen. The umbrella march (no doubt a nod to Hitchcock's famed sequence from Foreign Correspondent (1940)), the pristine Volvo that dazzled briefly with no less glamour than Bond's famed Aston Martin are the moments etched in my mind. The film faltered where most do nowadays - on the page, in the dialogue, in character development and plot progression. As credits rolled, I had a hard time recalling the names of main players. But, when I left the screening, a character's last words echoed my own sentiment, "I FUCKING LOVE BERLIN!"

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