The end of the 1980s saw the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall, which changed the world — especially the spy world — in a great many ways. Without a war to fight in, many spies were left, well, in the cold. In the new film Atomic Blonde, spies from most of the world powers are converging in Berlin in November of 1989, all seeking a mysterious watch that contains a list of every single operative from every spy agency, and he who holds this list could not only win the Cold War for their country, but possibly destroy the other nations in the process. To put it lightly, the stakes have never been higher.
Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, an agent with Britain’s MI6, who is sent to Berlin after the previous agent (Sam Hargrave, who also serves as the film’s stunt choreographer) was killed. Her mission is to find the watch and secure the list for queen and country. Her contact, David Percival (James McAvoy) has been in Berlin undercover so long that he lives for the spy game. It has essentially taken over his being, and as the political world begins to shift under his very feet, he plans to fight to keep the world he knows from crumbling.
Together, Lorraine and Percival seek out the Spetnaz agent (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), who killed the previous MI6 agent and now has the watch, but other players enter the fold, complicating things. This includes a sexy French spy Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), and a Soviet thug, Bremovych (Roland Moller), all seeking the watch, or a Spetnatz defector with a photographic memory who has seen the list, code named Spyglass (Eddie Marsen). Broughton is pulled deeper and deeper into the twisted spy game as the world itself is changing all around.
Atomic Blonde spins a Cold War yarn that would make John Le Carre proud, and punctuates it with some amazingly choreographed fight sequences and gun fights from Hargrave and director David Leitch (John Wick, the upcoming Deadpool 2) that are exquisitely brutal. One fight scene lasts over 10 minutes and has the illusion of being shot in one take, but some odd camerawork in transitions lead me to believe that it was just very carefully edited to look like one long take. Either way, the scene is the centerpiece of Atomic Blonde, and it is thrilling — and some what uncomfortable — to watch.
The script by Kurt Johnston, based off a graphic novel, The Coldest City, from Oni Press by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, has many twists and turns, and elevates itself from a “female James Bond” film. The climax of Atomic Blonde takes place as the citizens of Berlin are tearing down the wall, ushering in a new era in east/west relations, and the symbolism is not lost on the audience. And Johnston saves some of the biggest twists until the end, promising that Atomic Blonde could very well become a new franchise.
Theron is wonderful in the action scenes, but her British accent comes and goes, to the point of distraction. McAvoy seems to be having fun in his role, and his performance shows it. Sofia Boutella (Kingsman, The Mummy) is one of the high points in Atomic Blonde, as she continues to grow as an actress. With so many players and solid actors in smaller roles, including John Goodman as a CIA operative and Toby Jones as a MI6 higher up, Atomic Blonde handles it all well, and this world feels real and lived in, which says a lot about a “period” film set in 1989.
And since it is set in Germany in the late ’80s, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. Depeche Mode, New Order, Der Kommisar, Nina, and Til Tuesday are just highlights, as each song played conjured up images of the decade of excess, even as the audience watches people trading Jack Daniels whiskey and Jordache jeans for information. There is also an incredibly erotic sex scene in the second act that left the audience — at least half of it — stunned.
Atomic Blonde is a serviceable action film with some absolutely stunning fight scenes and a plot that borders on convoluted. A killer soundtrack and some great overall direction by Leitch separate it from the films that many want to compare it to, and in the end, Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton carves her own niche in the world of spy thrillers. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we see of the character, as the promise of a much bigger story is tantalizing, to say the least.
Atomic Blonde is rated R and is in theaters now.
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