Atomic Blonde, a movie


Atomic Blonde

dir. David Leitch

(115 mins) Trailer Academy Theater

Lest anyone harbor the misconception that I traffic only in highfalutin cinema...

In search of diversion I took in an afternoon screening of Atomic Blonde at the historic Academy Theater in Montavilla, just the other side of Mt. Tabor from my Belmont neighborhood. The Academy is among Portland's premier neighborhood theaters, offering a selection of second-run and vintage films at $4 a ticket, $3 for seniors (65+). The theater opened in 1948, was closed in the 1970s, fell into disrepair, and eventually underwent a full-scale renovation completed in 2006 that restored an "authentic 1940s charm" while providing such modern amenities as three theaters, Dolby sound, stadium seating with generous leg room, menu selections from Flying Pie Pizzeria, Bipartisan Cafe and Miyamoto Sushi, and of course microwbrews on tap, domestic beer in cans, six wines, and coffee.

Despite the proximity and a nice business district centered on SE Stark between 78th and 82nd, I do not know the area well. Several years ago I enjoyed dinner at The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar. Bipartisan Cafe claims to serve up the best handmade pies in Portland to go with "handcrafted coffee beverages made with world class, locally roasted Water Avenue Coffee." When Bipartisan is flourishing and an open table elusive, as I have found to be the case on occasion, Hungry Heart Bakery a block up Stark on 80th is an excellent option for an espresso and writing session before catching a film. Hungry Heart is more intimate than Bipartisan, boasting a few tables with artwork displayed on the wall above them, Stumptown coffee, and a menu that includes cupcakes, muffins, scones, pastries, and sandwiches. My visits there have always been pleasant.

Establishments whose focus is adult beverages remain beyond my limited experience at present. It almost goes without saying there are several that appear promising. I intend to do more wandering in this neighborhood.

I do not often take in movies of the action-thriller genre. When I do it is generally because I am overcome with an urge to see a movie when nothing is playing that draws me in. I think for instance of the Jason Bourne series. These movies can be in some sense entertaining. Atomic Blonde falls into that category. I enjoyed it after the fashion it offers.

Atomic Blonde is a by-the-numbers spy thriller, long on mayhem, car chases, car crashes, shootouts, and the hand-to-hand combat at which MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is top of the line. The setting is Berlin in 1989 with the East in turmoil and the wall about to come down. Broughton is dispatched to find and bring over a defecting Stasi double agent, a mousy fellow known as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who has disappeared with a list identifying a host of British and American operatives. The Russians, the Stasi, the Brits, the Yanks, and the French all want to get their hands on that list. Broughton lands in a viper's nest of double- and triple-agents, maybe even a quadruple-agent in the mix, her cover blown the instant she arrives, betrayer unknown. Her contact, David Percival (James McAvoy), also Spyglass's contact before he lost contact, seems to have lost track of which side he is on. Serial betrayal is the order of the day.

Much comes off as anticipated. Atomic Blonde is long on action, with extended fight scenes showcasing the remarkable recuperative powers of Broughton and her foes alike as she careens through Berlin dressed more for a fashion shoot than for a shoot-out. The movie is longer than it needs to be, with fight scenes drawn out almost to tedium, nothing unusual there, and a succession of plot twists that are predictable enough in hindsight, although I am not one to pick up on these things until they play out as I scratch my head and think, well, I suppose I could have seen that coming.

Charlize Theron is fine as a woman using whatever comes to hand to beat the crap out of bad guys who keep coming after a car key is jabbed through a cheek or a stiletto heel administered to the groin. Character development is minimal, with hints of back story but no more than that. I suppose something can be made of the fact that the role of action hero is played by a woman. For me it is not much different from watching Matt Damon as Jason Bourne beating the crap out of the bad guys in a comparable by-the-numbers display of shootouts, fights, car crashes, blood, and gore. Similarly with the de rigueur gratuitous sex scene, here played out with a lesbian angle. It remains a gratuitous sex scene.

The movie's conceit has a bruised and battered Broughton recounting the events in Berlin where she failed to deliver the goods, Spyglass and his list, during a debriefing session conducted by her superior with an antagonistic CIA representative (John Goodman) sitting in, witnessed by a host of upper echelon muckety-mucks on the other side of the room's one-way mirror. She exhibits an appropriate cynicism, at once weary and hard-edged, as she stands her ground in the hostile interrogation while working out just who betrayed whom and in turn was betrayed in a revolving door of betrayal.

For all the turns of a murky plot, betrayal heaped on betrayal, the intricate choreography of violence, Atomic Blonde is not genuinely suspenseful. Now that I think about it, neither are the Bourne movies. Suspense is not the point of this stuff. It is enough to allow myself to be lost, to forget myself a bit as as the tale plays out. With the ending comes one last little twist that is reasonably satisfying. Atomic Blonde is good enough after its fashion, a passable diversion, no investment of thought, emotion, or reflection required.

#Cinema

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David Matthews

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