A stylish, brutal action spy thriller starring Charlize Theron built around her beating up a bunch of incompetent men? SOLD!
From the moment I saw the trailer for Atomic Blonde for the first time, I knew that director David Leitch had made a film just for me. Set in 1989 just days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, a top level MI6 agent tasked with recovering a list of double agents who are supposed to be smuggled into the West after a fellow MI6 operative is murdered by the KGB. For someone as accomplished, and deadly, as Lorraine this should be no problem. But from the moment she lands in West Germany, our protagonist learns that not only has she been compromised, but that she can’t trust anyone, least of all her wild card contact Percival (James McAvoy) who may or may not have ulterior motives. The story is told to us through Lorraine’s interrogation, carried out by her superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) a CIA operative working with MI6.
There are as many twists and turns in Atomic Blonde as there are action montages featuring Theron and the nameless men she takes out, set to killer music. Within the first few sequences, Lorraine takes out a pair of KGB agents with her red heels, and orchestrates a car crash that takes out her enemies but leaves her visibly unscathed. In another, Lorraine escapes more KGB assassins using one’s neck as leverage to swing from one balcony to the next. Her mission gets even trickier when she hooks up with the innocent looking and similarly mysterious rookie French agent Delphine (Sofia Boutella), and suddenly the already tangled web of deception and violence because a gordian knot. It’s totally nonsensical and frivolous, but Theron’s blinding star wattage and the film’s slick sheen sticks is absolutely irresistible much like Leitch’s Keanu Reeves vehicle John Wick has proven to be.
The camera loves Theron, who reportedly did her own stunts for this film. Leitch shoots the long, oftentimes uncut action sequences with sheer admiration for his leading lady. Even when Lorraine is strutting down the street, it’s hard not to worship her in the way the movie does. This is not the actress’ first foray into the action genre; she was brilliant in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. But other films like this year’s The Fate of the Furious, 2012’s Prometheus, The Italian Job or the ill-fated Aeon Flux never made the most of her talent. Atomic Blonde feels tailor made for Theron, and would absolutely not work without her. Lorraine’s icy exterior is matched only by the fire burning inside of her to achieve her mission. “I want my life back” she says after taking out a hotel room full of men trying to kill her and knocking back a shot of straight vodka. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that Lorraine will come out on top, even if she’s gotta take a few punches and nurse a few bruises to get there.
The soundtrack may be a bit on the nose at times (“Der Kommissar,” “99 Luftballoons,” and Depche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel,” just to name a few tracks) but it’s choreographed to the heartbeat of the film in a similar fashion (albeit on a lesser scale) to Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver that give the action sequences an extra kick. The neon colors that light the hotel rooms and clubs in Berlin feel transported from the world of Nicolas Winding Refn that disturbing the chilliness of Cold War Berlin. And while the twists and turns might do little to assist the audience in untangling the plot, I didn’t really care in the end. The expertly executed action sequences, gorgeous cinematography all tied together by Theron’s compelling performance were more than enough for me. Atomic Blonde aims to please, and goes straight for the jugular.