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Movie Reviews: 'Atomic Blonde,' 'Detroit'


Two very different movies hit theaters this week.


CHARLIZE THERON: (As Lorraine Broughton) I chose this life. And someday it's going to get me killed. But not today.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Charlize Theron, who stars in the new film "Atomic Blonde." And then there's this historical drama.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Here in Detroit, a city of war, on the city's west side, a 150-block area is off-limits to everybody. U.S. Army paratroopers, National Guardsmen, state and local police are continuing the fight against a handful of snipers.

MARTIN: That's a clip from the movie "Detroit," about the 1967 riots in that city. Joining us now from our studios at NPR West is Claudia Puig. She is president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA PUIG: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right, Claudia. Let's start with this film "Atomic Blonde." This stars Charlize Theron. And as far as I can tell, it's just about her looking super hot as usual and kicking a lot of bad guy behind.

PUIG: Yes.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PUIG: That is pretty much what it's about. You know, she's really become the uber female action hero since "Mad Max." And she had a stint in The Fast and the Furious franchise. And she's perfectly cast in the role. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to really show her acting chops, which we know are substantial.

MARTIN: But there must be a plot. There's a storyline here.

PUIG: It's a thin storyline, and I wouldn't worry too much about the storyline (laughter). Basically, she's an MI6 agent dispatched to Berlin in 1989 just as the wall is about to fall. And there's a mole. And there's all kinds of treachery. But this is about her being just Jason Bourne-like and glamorous.

MARTIN: Or James Bond. Is she supposed to be James Bond?

PUIG: All of those. Yes.


PUIG: She's got this amazing arsenal of physical skills. And she can stab a person. You know, why do it with a traditional implement when you can do it with a red stiletto heel?

MARTIN: Yes. That's what I always say.

PUIG: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Did you like this film?

PUIG: I did like it with caveats.

MARTIN: It's entertaining.

PUIG: It's entertaining. It's about 15 minutes too long, takes a little while to get going. The motivations are murky. The political commentary is vague and strained. But...

MARTIN: Otherwise...

PUIG: (Laughter) There's so much flash and dazzle. And it's just - it's fun.

MARTIN: All right. Let's get to this other film directed by Kathryn Bigelow about the Detroit riots.

PUIG: Well, this is a really masterful film. It starts off as a look at how the riots escalated. And then it kind of tunnels in and focuses on a very specific event at the Algiers Motel, in which these white officers started off by interrogating but essentially tortured several people in the motel. She brings this vital sense of authenticity to it. She has that meticulous, cinema-verite style that thrusts the viewer directly into the tension and the action. You're on the edge of your seat. It's not an easy watch. But it is a very important and powerful film.

MARTIN: In your review of this film, you wrote the movie actually feels like a war movie, which is in Bigelow's wheelhouse. She famously won best director for "The Hurt Locker."

PUIG: Yes.

MARTIN: Really powerful film about a soldier in Iraq on a bomb squad. Could Kathryn Bigelow win another Oscar for this one?

PUIG: It's very possible. I think, given the timeliness of it, I know she wants this to kick off a conversation about race. And you see the connections to Ferguson, to Michael Brown, to Philando Castile. You see kind of the origins of all the different problems and issues that have arisen and continue to arise.

MARTIN: Claudia Puig is president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Hey, Claudia, thanks so much.

PUIG: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.