ATOMIC BLONDE – Review
Yes, no doubt about it: Charlize Theron as a cool, efficient spy in ATOMIC BLONDE makes James Bond look like a little old lady. This is the female action star we have been waiting for., even if the film is not perfect.
ATOMIC BLONDE is adapted from a graphic novel, “The Coldest City,” directed by David Leitch, who helmed JOHN WICK and is set to direct DEADPOOL 2. The film retains a kind of graphic novel noir visual style. Neon lights dominate, as does half-lighting and cigarette smoke. The visual style sets the mood well but the real fun of the film is in seeing Theron is the action sequences.
Charlize Theron and a wonderful handful of breath-taking, non-stop fight scenes are the major reason to see this noirish spy thriller set in 1989 East Berlin, as the Wall is about to fall. Two other good reasons to see this spy thriller are its stylish neon noir visual style and its pitch-perfect ’80s musical score. But not everything about ATOMIC BLONDE is as wonderful as Theron. The spy plot takes awhile to come into focus, and having finally set up a conflict between certain characters, it loses its logic by the film’s end. Still, it is fun to watch Theron in the many fight scenes, and the ’80s soundtrack adds just the right beat to both the action and the characters interactions.
Most enjoyable is Theron herself. We are used to hard-boiled male detectives but Theron’s British spy is very much in the same vein, even if the character is a spy rather than a detective. Still the mission she is sent on has detective-like elements. After another British spy, James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is killed trying to smuggle out a secret list of spies in East Berlin on both sides, and including a double agent, Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is sent by MI-6 to retrieve this list. Broughton acknowledges she had worked with the agent who was killed but does not reveal that the two may have been lovers. Hence, she has a special reason to want to undercover, and even revenge, what happened. In East Berlin, she is supposed to work with the local station chief David Percival (James MacAvoy). She is warned he has gone a bit native, spending more time trading in black-market goods and hanging out at clubs than tending to business. As a precaution, the savvy, experienced Lorraine establishes up her own network of contacts.
The story mostly is told in flashback, as Broughton is debriefed, after the mission somehow went wrong. Broughton is brought into a dim MI-6 interview room to tell her version of events but the tensions are thick. When she asks, she is told her boss, Chief “C” (James Faulkner) , won’t attend (although the one-way glass wall suggests he is there, listening, and she is to be questioned by another MI-6 official, Eric Gray (Toby Jones). Also in the room, much to Broughton’s displeasure, is a representative of the CIA, Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Lorraine objects to the presence of an American, asserting that what she has to say should only be heard by MI-6. Her objections overruled, she launches into her tale, chain-smoking in a coolly, self-assured manner.
Lorraine arrives in East Berlin under a cover of retrieving and identifying the body of her colleague for the company he supposedly worked for. Almost immediately she has to deal with Russian agents and barely escapes. She also notices she is being tailed by a woman (Sophia Boutella), whom she assumes is working for her contact. She angrily confronts the station head, who seems to be hung over and marginally interested in his job, yet threatening nonetheless. Convinced she’ll have to go it alone, Lorraine launches into her mission with professional intensity, plunging into a morass of secrets.
The twisty plot also features Eddie Marsan as a Stasi agent codenamed Spyglass, Roland Moller as Russian agent Aleksander Bremovych and Johannes Johannesson as his henchman Yuri Bakhtin. Sofia Boutella’s character turns out to be a French agent named Delphine Lasalle. Bill Skarsgard plays Merkel, part of Lorraine’s team, while Til Schweiger has a juice small role as a shadowy character called the Watchmaker and legendary German actress Barbara Sukowa appears as the East Berlin coroner.
Lorraine is all languid cool blonde beauty until the fight breaks out or the car chase starts. Then she explodes into a relentless, high-energy fighting style. There are several excellent chases and fight sequences but one sure to be seared into every memory takes place on a staircase, as Lorraine tries to protect the Stasi agent (Marsan) she’s trying to smuggle out. That sequence and other recall the best of Matt Damon’s original BOURNE IDENTITY and put any James Bond to shame. Theron is not only an amazing female action hero, she is an amazing action hero, period.
Boutella’s character Delphine, an inexperienced gay spy with a certain sweetness, provides a romantic diversion for the bisexual Lorraine, and a sex scene steams things up. While Lorraine is a hardened professional, who wryly says to Delphine that “these relationships aren’t real, it is part of the game,” we detect fondness chooses to keep hidden from most.
ATOMIC BLONDE is best as a showcase for Charlize Theron as action star, and to prove that women can be tough enough for any job.
RATING: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars