+++ Opinion +++
“John Wick“ has been one of the most formative films of the last decade for action purists. Not only did the gun fu cracker help Keanu Reeves to start his career a second time, he made an entire subgenre popular with his ultra-stylish, crisply choreographed but nevertheless grounded action interludes. Since then there have been numerous imitators, some with female cast such as Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the Netflix film “Kate” or even in a double pack with Karen Gillan and Lena Headey in “Gunpowder Milkshake”. But who if notJohn Wick’ -Co-director David Leitch would be better suited to a female ‘John Wick’ to bring to the screen? And he did: In Atomic Blonde, Mad Max and Fast & Furious star Charlize Theron plays badass one-woman army Lorraine Broughton.
Unfortunately, “Atomic Blonde” is currently not available in any streaming subscription. But the action title can be rented (or bought, of course) from VoD providers such as Amazon Prime Video for little money:
›› “Atomic Blonde” on Amazon Prime Video*
“Atomic Blonde” is interesting for German action fans simply because of the location: the film is set in East Berlin shortly before the fall of the Wall. An MI6 officer is found dead. He had in his possession a list of all the names of the spies active on both sides of Berlin, which has now disappeared. Lorraine Brougthon (Charlize Theron), also working for the British secret service, is now assigned by her superiors (Toby Jones and John Goodman) to penetrate the GDR capital and secure the sensitive information.
Her assignment takes her to ex-secret agent David Percival (James McAvoy) and French agent Delphine (Sofia Boutella). But who can Lorraine trust in a city full of spies, especially in such a politically sensitive situation? One thing is clear: other parties also want the list and are prepared to stop at nothing to get it.
Who would have thought that the cult hit “99 Luftballons” could be played in a “John Wick“-like actioner would hear? At least I don’t, and it’s one of the reasons Atomic Blonde’s setting feels so fresh. GDR historical films are often kept in a dreary, desaturated look, but in this espionage thriller the cold gray of East Berlin is broken up again and again with stylish shots in intense neon light. Coupled with the groovy 80s soundtrack from Depeche Mode to David Bowie, there is a lot to do audiovisually.
The usual brilliant Charlize Theron also contributes to the film’s style factor with her platinum blonde mane. She also gets a lot more acting to do than her stoic colleague Keanu Reeves in the “John Wick”-Film. Also a fascinating figure: James McAvoy’s obscure survivor Percival, with whom you never know what he is actually up to.
Even if the story of the spy thriller isn’t much more than generic standard goods, it’s the aforementioned qualities that make “Atomic Blonde” stand out from the crowd. The film is really worth seeing because of the action, and there is one scene that particularly impressed me.
The undisputed highlight of “Atomic Blonde” is the ten-minute one-shot sequence towards the end of the film: In a rock-hard and exhausting struggle for survival, Lorraine Broughton first fights and shoots her way through a stairwell full of enemies, completely exhausted and dedicates herself to a seemingly never-ending fight with an opponent who is also already completely exhausted, then gets into a car and gives herself a chase in the hail of bullets – and all this while the man she is supposed to help escape can barely walk and is slowly bleeding to death!
What makes this action scene one of the best of all time for me are three factors: First of all, it’s always impressive when such long action sequences are shot without a single visible cut. It’s a stylistic device that seems a bit worn out in theory – true to the motto: If you want to impress your audience, take a one-shot – but which almost always triggers a great deal of admiration in me, because in practice it is there is an enormous effort behind it, even if one or the other hidden cut is used.
Second, I think it’s gross, and almost insane, that Charlize Theron insisted on doing almost all of the stunts in the film herself. That’s what stunt coordinator Sam told Hargrave The Hollywood Reporters: “Charlize did 98 percent of her stunts herself, all the fighting, running and so on. Only when it came to her falling down a flight of stairs or swinging down from a great height, they couldn’t do that for insurance reasons.” The less trickery there is to an action scene, the more immediate and believable it is. That’s why “Atomic Blonde” also benefits from its main actress, who daringly throws herself into the action.
Third, and this is one of my favorite things about the action scene, Lorraine and her enemies really show the physical exhaustion that such spanking arias realistically cause. Action cinema far too often shows us heroes blessed with superhuman stamina, slaughtering through hordes of enemies without ever showing a single sign of fatigue. Not so with “Atomic Blonde”: Here, over the course of a minute-long sequence, more and more efficient ways have to be found to eliminate the many enemies. Eventually, there will be no more energy for Lorraine to put into her punches and kicks.
That’s why she sometimes throws herself at her opponents with her whole body, uses objects lying around or specifically attacks the joints and other weak points of her pursuers. As a viewer, I just couldn’t believe how long that one sequence lasted. Like Lorraine, I eventually felt really drained, but the adrenaline kept me going. For that one scene alone, it’s worth giving Atomic Blonde a try.
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