Atomic Blonde

Writing MovieWRONGS

By Jim West

Atomic Blonde

Directed by David Leitch

Written by Kurt Johnstad

David Leitch directs one helluva action movie with some memorable fight sequences that actually feel somewhat authentic.  You get to see people get exhausted from fighting which is a great thing to finally see in a film.  David’s earlier success with his two John Wick films has now brought us to a female action/espionage film which sometimes suffers an identity crisis with the plot full of double and triple agents.  The film has some really good jump scares and it sometimes can be a lot to ask for a great story, but the goal here is to show how writing the story better can elevate the film to a great film demanding of repeat viewings.

Here comes the spoilers.

The film opens with a man who is soon revealed to be a spy with a watch containing a list of all spies operating in the world.  He is soon killed by a Russian Spy in Berlin just days before the fall of the Berlin wall.  Nice historical touch to the backdrop of the film by the way.  Question:  How does a master list of spies for the US, UK, and Russia get combined like that?  I mean the kickoff plot device that sets these events in motion really should have a better explanation on how the utmost secrets of at least three nations gets on a single device.  Then we are brought to present day where we are introduced to Charlize Theron’s character who is soaking her badly beaten and wounded body in a tub full of ice.  Clearly she has been through a lot of fighting and the film will unfold in flashbacks soon enough as she is brought into MI6’s interrogation room to be debriefed on what occurred in Berlin.   I sometimes dislike this convention of storytelling as you now she is never in any real danger in the flashbacks as she wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale.  Yet I understand the goal of this type of storytelling and it plays out well given the film’s ending ‘surprise’ reveal.

The story and characters all being spies works well for a who can trust who narrative, but Charlize’s Lorraine character starts off immediately not trusting James McAvoy’s character David Percival.  She constantly catches him in lies and realizes he is not working with her well in the mission at hand.  Yet there is a scene where she visits him and he takes her coat.  She is at first reluctant and later it is revealed somehow he inserted a listening mic into it.  Highly unlikely, and begs to question how she let that out of her sight given the distrust level.

Moving forward we go back and forth between the past and present with MI6 bringing in a CIA man played by John Goodman.  At first they imply she may be Satchel, but later suspicion gets thrown upon Percival.  Good red herring and the back and forth of who is loyal to who is played out with Lorraine seeming to always be a step behind when in essence she is in on the gig from the beginning.  We are often treated to spy films filled with the double agent or two, but here we get to see a triple agent at play.  The plot grows a bit messy as Percival meets with Goodman’s character and is sent off to track down Lorraine.  As he sets off to cover his tracks and erase loose ends, Lorraine finally gets the one step ahead of him for once in the entire film.  The agency and MI6 wrap up the interrogation after she reveals or rather frames Percival as the double agent Satchel, and yet the list on the watch is still not delivered to MI6.  A few days later she in in Paris meeting with the KGB revealing she is Satchel which Percival revealed that already earlier in the film so no surprise here to the audience or the KGB who Percival tipped off already.  She dispatches the entire room of KGB agents and informs the main Russian contact that she was never working for them.  Well duh, and there are easier ways to kill them all.  What was her true endgame here?  Just doesn’t make sense at all other than to cover her tracks as a triple agent, but in essence the Brits would eventually figure this out when she doesn’t come back to MI6 for work.  Yeah go figure.

So how to fix these issues?  The montage of Lorraine splicing audio tape together to frame Percival as Satchel should have been combined with her knowing fully well she had been bugged from the beginning and not when she ripped her coat later in the film.  This means we have to also fix the extraction scene for the Stasi officer codenamed Spyglass, who has memorized the list so that she wasn’t expecting him to die as she planned for sniper fire.  Now as the films stands when she finds out Percival withheld information that the officer has memorized the list she should have halted the operation when Percival kept surprising her with changes to her plans by the family showing up unexpectedly.  She should have done a better job of watching Percival than for sniper fire as the umbrellas provided cover.  This is the point where she and Percival parts ways strategically and begin to chase and fight each other.  Percival could run into the building with the officer’s family as hostages and she goes up to deal with the Russians as she does in the film.  Percival could somehow escape and the film can still resume, but now show him talking with Goodman telling him Lorraine is Satchel (which he knows anyways) and the redirect to track her down becomes more plausible as Goodman wants to cover tracks to include Percival (collision course).  Percival goes to kill the French agent who he knew had dirt on him and he knew she takes photos yet he doesn’t torch her photo room due to not enough time, but why make the mistake to go back to your place to torch it though just to give time for elite spy to catch up to you.  Rookie mistake.  Instead let him escape Germany.  She can find him with the Russians in the Paris scene where there can be a double cross.  The action can unfold the same way, but with Percival in the next room with the head KGB agent.  Now I know this is a bit much, and trust me the film as it is a bit much to digest at first.  Yet for me the triple agent angle is a nice touch, but I would modify the fact that she let Percival seemingly stay a step ahead of her the whole time.  Just serves no real purpose other than to undermine her experience and skills as a triple agent.

In closing, it is overall a refreshing film and again those fight sequences are brutal and nice job showing fatigue and just being beaten down to the point of baring moving.  Good job.  Story wise, just some minor insertions of information and changeup of reveals and you got a film that demands repeat viewings to ‘catch it if you missed it’ moments.

Thanks for reading Writing Movie ‘WRONGS’.   

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