Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 4, 2017

Maybe Theron should be new Bond

Charlize Theron is getting high marks for her work as Lorraine Broughton, MI6 agent, in the action spy thriller “Atomic Blonde.” Some film critics have gone as far as saying Theron’s work in the film elevates her to the top of the list of female action stars. Many are also calling Broughton the female James Bond or John Wick.

I understand where those critics are coming from, but they’re selling Theron and Broughton short.

After seeing Theron’s vigorous stunt work in “Atomic Blonde,” Daniel Craig and Keanu Reeves are lucky to be mentioned in the same sentence. I love Craig as Bond and think Reeves is the perfect Wick, but Theron outdoes them in “Atomic Blonde.”

Top female action star? Try top action star, period.

As Broughton, Theron trumps her own excellent performance as the one-armed Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” In several intense fight scenes – including a showstopper set in a stairwell – Theron delivers work that is both calculated and raw. Her kicks, punches and throws are as beautifully choreographed as they are brutal, and she appears to take beatings that are as vicious as the ones she gives.

In the stairwell scene, which is easily the best action sequence in a movie this year, Broughton is tasked with escorting a man out of Berlin while fighting off several persistent assailants. Director David Leitch follows the violence through several rooms of a dilapidated building and up and down multiple flights of steps as his characters pummel, stab and throw each other onto tables, down stairs and against walls without ever cutting away from the action.

The scene is a technical marvel. I especially loved how Theron’s enraged face – which becomes more and more bloodied as the fight rages on – is visible every time Broughton pulls off a complex move.

Tom Cruise gets a lot of press for doing his own stunts, and while he’s pulled off some impressive feats on film, I’ve never believed it was anyone but Cruise. In “Atomic Blonde,” Theron disappears into the role of Broughton. Her expression as she’s fighting would-be killers sells every kinetic moment of “Atomic Blonde.”

There’s also no need to apply a male-established standard like Bond or Wick to Broughton. Yes, she’s a British spy who has a way with the ladies (“Atomic Blonde” earns its R-rating, and not just with its violence – wink, wink), and she can drop a half-dozen bad guys with a few well-placed shots, but Theron and the rest of the team behind the film have created a character who stands on her own.

Broughton is cold, calculating, intelligent and skilled but also capable of emotional depth. Leitch often paints Theron’s face in neon blues and then lingers on her in close-up to reveal a side of her not perceptible when she’s knocking someone senseless.

Two of my favorite shots in the movie reveal her deeper side. In one, she burns a Polaroid of an agent with whom she was romantically involved. His death at the hand of a Russian gets the plot rolling, and you can see Broughton hardening her heart against the pain of his loss as the photo burns.

In the other, Broughton rises out of an icy bath, covered in bruises and sporting an expression I would not want directed at me.

I loved the action and character work in “Atomic Blonde.” Unfortunately, the story did nothing to further my affection for the movie. It’s too complex for its own good and has more moving parts than the average moviegoer can track.

The film opens with a KGB agent killing an MI6 operative to obtain a list of active Soviet field agents. The timeline then shifts to the near future, when Broughton’s boss and a CIA executive interrogate her about her mission to recover the list and assassinate the double agent who betrayed the MI6 operative.

So far, so good. But I soon lost track of who was who, why they were doing what they were doing and what was going on. Eventually, I stopped caring and just settled in and waited for the action.

Usually, this would kill a movie. Viewers need to care about a character to be invested in the action that affects them. Part of cultivating that sympathy is telling a story that captures the audience’s heart. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Die Hard” do this very effectively.

But I wound up pulling for Broughton despite very little of what was happening around her making sense. I chalked this up to Theron’s charisma and the excellent character work done by Leitch.

In the end, the action was enough to carry me through “Atomic Blonde.” Watching Broughton go through her paces was a bonus. But if Focus Features makes a sequel, I hope they write a story worthy of cinema’s top action star.

3 out of 4 stars