Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, another pin on her action-hero lapel after her ferocious turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
As Lorraine Broughton, an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin in the late '80s as the wall begins to fall, she showcases her ability to kick people through walls with the best of them. She also shows how to use a freezer door as a weapon.
Directed by David Leitch, one of the directors of the original John Wick and future director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks fly. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real, and choreograph action scenes that stand as some of the year's best. When Charlize lands a blow in this movie, you feel it in your face.
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film drags at times, especially when Lorraine does the standard interrogation-room scenes, Toby Jones and John Goodman drilling her for answers. While it could've used some edit-room tightening, the movie is very much worth wading through the shallow parts.
Lorraine tells her story in flashback as she hunts for a list containing nefarious info about herself and fellow agents, a list that could continue the Cold War for decades to come. Her hunt includes interactions with unorthodox agent David Percival (James McAvoy), somebody who mixes his espionage with partying and trafficking black-market Jordache jeans.
Theron and McAvoy are good on screen together, and their dialogue scenes are some of the best that don't involve teeth getting broken. As for the bone-crunching action, there's a scene that rivals Logan for best action sequence of the year. Leitch coordinates a battle that starts in a building and culminates with a car chase as if it were one shot, and it's an exhaustive exercise in how to keep fighting while falling down stairs, getting shot, and getting your face kicked in. (If the rest of the movie were Theron and McAvoy gardening and sipping herbal teas while listening to a ballgame on the radio, Atomic Blonde would still be worth seeing for just that scene. It's classically good.)
McAvoy, having a great year with this and Split, has risen from amusing curio actor to heavy hitter. Like in Split, he's a nut in this movie, an actor willing to take risks, and they're paying off. He also might win the award for keeping a cigarette in your mouth through a major ass-kicking, and strained dialogue delivery.
As good as he is, you don't go to Atomic Blonde to see McAvoy. This is Theron's vehicle, and she owns it in much the same way Keanu Reeves has taken his career to new levels with the John Wick films. Theron, an Oscar-winner who can dramatically spar with the best of them, is a searing physical performer. Here she convinces that neither Conor McGregor or Floyd Mayweather would stand a chance against her in the ring.
Late '80s playlists are sure to spike on streaming services thanks to the film's soundtrack which includes David Bowie, Queen, Falco, 'Til Tuesday, The Clash and, quite notably, George Michael (his "Father Figure" is put to astonishingly good use in that classic scene I mentioned above). Leitch and company find some great ways to make the music a part of the film, and while I probably never need to hear "99 Luftbalons" again, the presence of Siouxsie and the Banshees "Cities of Dust" is much appreciated.
The summer movie season is coming to a close (Yep ... you just read that!) and while Atomic Blonde isn't one of the summer's best, it does have a couple of the summer's best scenes. I'm not sure if there's enough here to warrant another Atomic Blonde movie, but there's definitely a call for more movies with Theron hitting people in the face with freezer doors. Or, just hitting and kicking people in general. She's quite good at it.
Christopher Nolan's ambitious film about the 1940 evacuation of allied troops from Dunkirk is one of the great visual cinematic spectacles of the 21st century, and for that, he should be applauded. Unfortunately, some of his scripting and editing decisions take away from the effectiveness of his movie. In a strange way, this is one of his least successful films. We are talking about the guy who made Interstellar, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia and Memento. All of those films are better movies than Dunkirk. They are, in fact, great movies. Dunkirk is good, and an occasionally astounding if you manage to see it on an IMAX screen. Nolan shot on film, with all scenes intended for IMAX. Mixed with some incredible soundtrack work by Hans Zimmer, it begs to be seen in theaters. I'm glad I saw it. I'm glad it exists, but it didn't blow me away. Any Nolan fan knows that he loves to make his movies complicated in relation to time—Memento a prime example—and the director himself has called Dunkirk his most experimental yet. Nolan is out to prove that you can cut away from a harrowing ship-sinking sequence to an also harrowing battle sequence set in the air and maintain the tension. He simply doesn't pull off the stunt every time. There are moments when he cuts away to another timeline that are nothing short of totally frustrating and unnecessary. It feels like a director being a little too cute.
A young woman (Abby Quinn) discovers that her dad, Alan (John Turturro), might be having an affair after spying some strange poetry on their desktop in the mid-'90s. Director Gillian Robespierre also reunites with her Obvious Child star Jenny Slate who plays Turturro's older daughter, having relationship problems of her own with Ben (Jay Duplass). Edie Falco rounds out the family dynamic as Pat, Alan's generally annoyed (and very entertaining) wife. Robespierre might be working with some Hollywood clichés here within the realm of fidelity and teen angst, but she and the cast make it all seem fresh. The film uses its '90s setting in a subtle way that qualifies it as a period piece (floppy discs, trench coats) without hitting you over the head with details. All of the cast is good, but it's Slate who really shines, continuing showing the world that Saturday Night Live made a big mistake dismissing her after one season due to that single curse word during her series debut. She's an actress of great range, and Robespierre has now gotten two terrific performances out of her. Turturro and Falco are the old pros, and they make for a convincing, troubled yet in love couple. Relative newcomer Quinn holds her own with the group, playing a teen intelligent beyond her years, yet pretty stupid at the same time. When the movie ends, you find yourself missing the characters, the mark of a truly good ensemble piece.