Dir: David Leitch
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marson, Sofia Boutella & Toby Jones
Runtime: 115 min
The spy-thriller genre is often viewed as either over-the-top cheesy and rather unbelievable, as demonstrated in the older James Bond films, or else gratuitously action-packed to the point where there is almost no room for anything else, as seen in the Bourne series. David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde attempts to inject a bit of life into a genre that can so easily become repetitive, and for the most part, he makes a solid effort.
Set during the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Atomic Blonde centres on MI6 killing-machine Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who is sent to Berlin to retrieve a valuable list of double agents after a fellow British agent winds up dead while carrying it. She is also tasked with murdering Satchel, a double-agent who is believed to have leaked information to Soviet agents. Lorraine enters a chaotic Berlin and, with the help of the shady and unreliable David Percival (James McAvoy) and seductive French beauty Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), she must navigate her way through a sea of double-crossers and Russian enemies.
Atomic Blonde does a lot of things right. The film is flashy in the best way, boasting striking colours and a banging soundtrack that hugely compliments the action-packed scenes. The fighting sequences are choreographed to perfection, with an excellent balance between slick editing and hide-behind-your-hands violence. The soundtrack, particularly the slowed-down version of 99 Luftballons played over the final sequence, adds just the right amount of whimsy to the film, stopping it from overflowing with gratuitous blood and gore, but allowing it to remain sleek. Visually the film is a joy to look it. Leitch makes fantastic use of vibrant colours and exciting contrasts. In fact, the white-blonde hair of Lorraine Broughton does an excellent job at intensifying the striking surroundings of the comic-esque world.
Charlize Theron proved herself as an action superstar in her acclaimed role as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and Atomic Blonde allows her to shut down anyone who may have doubted her ability. Her fighting is phenomenal and her performance as steely Broughton is as Cold as the War itself. Theron puts her male counterparts to shame, making use of everything and anything, from a hose to her own stiletto, to ensure her survival. Rocking one of the fiercest looks I’ve seen onscreen, Theron’s performance keeps the film’s tension ticking over, even though at no point do I fear for her losing a fight.
However, Atomic Blonde is not a flawless film. My biggest issue had to be runtime. For such a fast-paced film it began to feel quite drawn out towards the end, and the concurrent timeline of Broughton being interrogated seemed to detract from the film rather than enhance it. This ultimately delayed the ending and felt like two storylines needed to be wrapped up rather than one. For me, it felt like a niggling issue that had to be dealt with and, though the outcome was entertaining and in keeping with the film, made an otherwise exciting film seem that bit slower.
With the exception of Theron’s portrayal of Lorraine Broughton, the character development in the film did not exactly grab me. James McAvoy’s performance as Percival, though well done, was not dissimilar to other roles he’s had in the past, and overall the air of shadiness about his character made the outcome of the plot a little predictable. The other characters are given little opportunity to shine. Sofia Boutella does well to convey the ‘small fish in a big pond’ idea of a young girl who got herself caught up in something way out of her depth, and her one-on-one scenes with Theron are quite standout in the film. Toby Jones and John Goodman have little to work with. Eddie Marson performs well and his role is key, however he feels like more of a prop to enhance the respective performance of Theron and McAvoy, and ultimately my attention was drawn to them over him.
Atomic Blonde is a battle between spectacle and story, and spectacle comes out on top. The film is visually powerful and makes fantastic use of a retro soundtrack that somehow still manages to give the movie a very modern vibe. This was matched with snappy, exciting editing and incredible fight sequences to make for a visual delight. Charlize Theron gave a stellar performance as icy blonde death-dealer Lorraine Broughton but ultimately the appearance of the film overshadowed the plot, which for me felt a little too drawn-out. Nonetheless, David Leitch’s creation makes for an exciting, entertaining watch and definitely one for gals who are sick of watching men be the heroes.
Ciara Dillon – Film Editor