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Atomic Blonde

(2017) ** 1/2 R
115 min. Focus Features. Director: David Leitch. Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan.

/content/films/5070/1.jpgThe action film has always been something of a blunt instrument, but it got a bit blunter with 2014’s John Wick, now a successful franchise for Keanu Reeves. If those films indulge a criminal-underworld fantasy, the new action thriller Atomic Blonde—from the co-director of John Wick—indulges a spy fantasy, only one grottier than even the grottiest James Bond. With star Charlize Theron at the helm and Wonder Woman already blazing a path at the box office, a new franchise may well be born.

Theron plays MI6 operative Lorraine Broughton, who arrives in 1989 Berlin days before the Berlin Wall came crashing down. She recounts her trying mission to secure a highly sensitive “List” to her superior (Toby Jones) and an aloof representative of the CIA (John Goodman), raising the possibility (a la The Usual Suspects) that the flashbacks that make up the bulk of the film may not be entirely straightforward. After all, as the MI6 chief says, “Trust no one.”

That’s the kind of spy cliché pieced together for the lethargic side of Atomic Blonde, a movie that isn’t about anything more than the spy game and how to make it to the end of the board. As Lorraine sizes up whether or not she can trust Berlin station chief David Percival (ever-cheeky James McAvoy) and Sapphic asset Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a question hangs in the air: can any relationship survive this career choice? Lorraine shows bisexual tendencies but playing both sides may be more of a professional obligation than a personal orientation.

Choosing sides and living with a Wall down the middle work as something of a motif, as does the bathtub full of ice cubes that is Lorraine’s post-bruising cooldown. And there’s the real takeaway, as with John Wick: the kinetic fight scenes of a numbed professional loner. Director David Leitch is playing for style points with the wall-to-wall ’80s source music (will you hear “99 Luftballons” at least once? Yes you will) and the ‘80s pastiche visual scheme (think pastel neon and graffiti), but he actually earns them with the ingenious stunt sequences.

Quick and brutal, observed by a dizzying camera that seems to tumble through the space along with the fighters, these set pieces hit hard, brutally hard. At their best, they also have a “how’d they do that?” impact that both signals the upped ante of stunt virtuosity at the franchise level and implies that returns will soon diminish. Then, too, there is Theron, whose kind of un-performance in repose keeps breaking out into ferocious fighting that suggests a feral Jackie Chan. And if that isn’t enough to sell you on Atomic Blonde, you’re barking up the wrong summer movie.

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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS: X, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 11/14/2017

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal brings Focus Features' Atomic Blonde home in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack that pulls out the stops with great A/V and a full complement of bonus features. The film's 1980s look gets a faithful digital-to-digital rendering in a transfer that retains the picture's soft neon hues with a strong underlying black level. The nature of the image doesn't lend itself to eye-popping depth or extraordinary detail, but the closer the shot gets to its subject, the better fine details and textures read. Picture quality gets good marks all around by replicating the theatrical experience with ease. The DTS: X Master Audio mix likewise handily recreates the theatrical experience for home theaters with (literally) punchy sound effects and a full-bodied treatment of source music and score. Potent LFE helps along the wow factor for the hard-hitting action sequences, which best showcase the mix's brilliant placement of effects within the soundfield for maximum immersion and engagement; happily, dialogue stays neatly above the fray.

Bonus features kick off with an audio commentary by director David Leitch and editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. With an obvious bonus insight into the editing process, this track covers all the bases of the film's making, from the project's origins, adaptation, and directorial concept (including the approach to the period) to production (with special attention to performances and action direction) and post-production (including musical choices). 

Six "Deleted/Extended Scenes" (7:23, HD) comprise "Russian Driver," "Hidden Stash," "Nice to Meet You," "Not Afraid of Love," "Broughton's Promise," and "Watch for Sale".

"Welcome to Berlin" (4:33, HD) focuses in on production design in its approach to time and place.

The featurette "Blondes Have More Gun" (7:01, HD) gives a broader making-of overview with Charlize Theron talking shop.

"Spymaster" (4:18, HD) profiles Leitch and his work on the film.

"Anatomy of a Fight Scene" (7:52, HD) incorporates picture-in-picture director commentary, split-screen with behind the scenes footage, and some full-screen behind-the-scenes clips with the movie PiP to tell the story of the film's centerpiece sequence.

"Story in Motion" offers animated storyboards for the scenes "Agent Broughton" (2:16, HD) and "The Chase" (1:38, HD), both with optional Leitch commentary.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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