Review of reviews: Film
Directed by David Leitch (R)
A brawling spy heats up the Cold War.
If Mad Max: Fury Road established Charlize Theron’s career as an action star, “Atomic Blonde cements it,” said Ross Miller in TheVerge.com. This “unapologetic shoot-’em-up” from the director of John Wick flagrantly pushes style over substance, but it works, thanks largely to Theron’s “extreme commitment” to her role. She plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to East Germany on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall to recover a list of secret agents’ identities. Before long, Atomic Blonde becomes a vehicle for “intense, well-choreographed” fight scenes, with Broughton and her partner (played by James McAvoy) fighting their way through never-ending adversaries. Theron “absolutely kills it,” even giving ruthless Lorraine a bit of emotional depth. “Atomic Blonde one-ups John Wick and every other hand-to-hand combat film in recent memory,” said Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair. Credit the “irresistibly gritty” new-wave soundtrack and the ’80s neon aesthetic. Bathed in eerie red and blue, Theron cuts a striking figure as she brawls in Berlin’s dirty streets. The movie’s relentless energy falters when the plot thickens toward the end, said Eric Kohn in IndieWire.com. But when Theron gets back to scrapping, “nothing else matters.”
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (R)
Four old friends go wild in New Orleans.
Finally, a girls-night-out comedy that “doesn’t leave you feeling depleted and insulted,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. Written for women, Girls Trip is “the funniest, raunchiest movie of the summer”—a debauched night on the town that plays like giddy catharsis instead of staged self-debasement. If you’re ready for it, you’ll laugh for nearly two hours. “No matter what,” though, “consider yourself forewarned that the movie’s gags, and its language, reach a sailors-on-leave level of crudeness.” Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish co-star as four friends from college who reunite for a weekend in New Orleans on the invitation of the rising celebrity in the group—a self-help author due to give the keynote at the city’s annual Essence music fest. I’d say Haddish is the surprise here, but the little-known actress is “electric in everything she does,” said Aisha Harris in Slate.com. “If the universe has any justice, Girls Trip will make her a star”—and not just because of one raunchy running gag about grapefruit. When Girls Trip reaches for serious moments, “the transition between the tones is a little bumpy,” said Stephanie Merry in The Washington Post. Mostly, though, the movie “accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: shock and amuse.”
Directed by William Oldroyd (R)
A teenage bride turns ruthless.
“Few movies this year will be more likely to molest your sleep,” said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. Adapted not from Shakespeare but from an 1865 Russian novella, Lady Macbeth is “a lean and forbidding affair” about a 17-year-old sold into an oppressive marriage in remote 19th-century northern England. “You can feel her ticking like a bomb.” But after the new bride starts sleeping with a stable boy and depletes the manor’s supply of wine, this suspenseful and accomplished film “asks us to form a bond of complicity with some heedlessly amoral characters,” said Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. “That’s a big ask.” To be sure, the movie would feel “ludicrously melodramatic” without the performance of its little-known star, said David Sims in TheAtlantic.com. Florence Pugh makes us believe in the young woman’s transformation— so much so that Lady Macbeth “marks the emergence of a major talent.” Better yet, the movie doesn’t ask us to root for its protagonist, but to regard the inevitability of tragedy unfolding from such an oppressive social system. Its searing conclusion makes Lady Macbeth “one of the best, and most surprising, films of the year.”
Focus Features, Universal Studios, Roadside Attractions, Paramount Pictures ■