Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman
Swift shot: Set just as the Berlin Wall is about to collapse in 1989, Atomic Blonde delivers style and sexuality with a taste of neon punk and an immersive soundtrack inspired by David Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy. This slow but sweet spy thriller does a marvelous job capturing feminine force whilst balancing the nuanced vulnerability that keeps the story from becoming a complete farce of reality. Our Atomic Blonde doesn’t always come out of her battles unscathed. But, damn is it fun to watch her turn set pieces into kindling as she messes up the bad guys!
Following the assassination of the MI6’s top agent in East Berlin, James Bond…no, James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is sent in to investigate how James was killed and who betrayed him. The maguffin in this story is a bit overused in spy thrillers, it’s the list of deep cover agents employed by the West to spy on our adversaries. Again, this is nothing novel, but how the story is told is what makes Atomic Blonde a spy thriller you must watch.
Broughton is immediately in peril once she lands in Berlin, and she has to use her many lethal skills to dispatch some goons in a fantastic chase that leads to her meeting her man on the ground, the head of Berlin Station, David Percival (McAvoy). He has gone native, and has become entrenched in all things primal, he’s an information broker who doesn’t just dabble in the black market, he runs it. So Broughton arranges for herself to stay put in Berlin to investigate how Gasciogne was killed and has to navigate a group of Soviets led by KGB Chief Bremovych (Roland Moller) and her MI6 bosses providing her little to no support for the mission.
And while there’s the hard-copy version of the spy list in play, the creator of the list, is an ex Stasi agent code-named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). He has committed the list to memory. What’s odd is that he decides to reveal that at all, as it makes him a target of anyone looking to corner the knowledge of the names on the list. But, that’s not really important to keep the story flowing, and they make it clear that he has to divulge that information to keep himself still valuable enough to keep alive.
As we are introduced to Broughton, she is being debriefed ten days after she had arrived in Berlin, in London. We learn about a mysterious mole only known as Satchel, who is believed to be responsible for the death of Gasciogne and the exposure of the list. Satchel is another maguffin in the film, as you try to guess who it might be and why they would betray one of their own. Oh, and did I mention there’s a little French ingenue, Delphine (Boutella) flitting around throughout the film who has taken a seductive interest in Broughton. But is she more than just an incredibly sexy lesbian love interest for Broughton to bed?
And let’s just get right into bed, shall we? There is a lot of female nudity in Atomic Blonde, and it is used in a way to show the power of sex and also the naked frailty of our leading lady. And because Theron gives the performance of her life in every scene, even scenes where she is just getting geared up in some negligee and nifty spy toys, it becomes poignant and not just eye candy as we see her mastering her trade-craft.
I would probably have cut a few of the “Rambo gets ready” scenes as I call them, where you see the action character donning their gear and making ready for an op. There’s probably about 30 minutes solid of just those scenes. But, because they show off beautiful female forms, who am I to judge? God made a canvas like that to be appreciated, so why not let Leitch and Theron have a little fun in the process?
What makes Atomic Blonde stand-out from other films of the same mettle is Theron, she dedicated herself to being the most believable femme fatale to ever grace the silver screen with her presence. She trained hard with Keanu Reeves, who was doing his training for the upcoming John Wick 2, which is being produced by David Leitch. Theron’s commitment to her craft is why she has an Academy Award, no doubt.
Atomic Blonde is based on a Graphic Novel: “The Coldest City”, a reference to the temperature and ruthlessness that existed in Berlin during the Cold War. Leitch and his team do a tremendous job recreating the city of two nations and the Berlin Wall in particular, as you can definitely feel each time there is a transition from side to side.
Ultimately this is a wonderful spy thriller in the old style where there are double-crosses, hidden agendas, and you are never sure who to trust as you watch each character playing the most dangerous game.
Atomic Blonde also has the added pleasure of being a film you can watch twice to get a better appreciation of each character’s motives the second time around, once everything is revealed. If you like slow burn spy thrillers and beautiful women, you’d be a damned fool to miss this one in theaters!