Jacob Richardson | 19/07/2017
A neon-soaked, sensual and brutally violent cold-war action film that will have keep you guessing until the end.
Atomic Blonde opens in a cold, metallic interrogation room, as British Spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is debriefed by her superior, Gray (Toby Jones), and an unnamed CIA Agent played by John Goodman. Behind the glass, MI6 boss C (James Faulkner) watches intently, as the bruised, battered and beautiful Lorrain spills her sordid tale of intrigue.
We flash back to a few days before. It’s 1989, and Lorraine has been sent to Berlin. In the immense of a certain wall falling (and a certain ‘hoff singing), Lorraine must track down a mysterious list (read: McGuffin) that has fallen into the wrong hands. It contains not only the names and exploits of every secret agent, but also confirms the identity of the fabled MI6 mole, Satchel. Alas, her contact, the mischievous MI6 officer who runs Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy), is seemingly intent on lying to her. Maybe it’s because he is Satchel - or maybe it’s because he thinks she is. Or perhaps it’s seemingly naïve French operative Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Nevertheless, what ensues is a cryptic game of cat and mouse, as Lorraine, utterly outgunned and outmanned by a seemingly never-ending array of Russians and Germans, attempts to track down the list before it does some real damage.
Director David Leitch has a lot to overcome after the early minutes of the film. It’s a relatively bland premise, and one we’ve heard before. A list of secret agents true identities gone missing! Double crosses around every corner! John Wick-esque action! Flashbacks to the events from an interrogation room! It’s all fairly standard, and as cinema-goers it puts us a little bit offside right from the start. It’s a testament, then, to the incredibly stylish cinematography, thumping soundtrack, incredible lead performance and stunning staircase scene that, coming out of the film, you will have thoroughly enjoyed yourself.
McAvoy is superb as Percival. He’s wretched in all the ways you can imagine a spy left out in the cold for too long would be. Resourceful, manic and resplendently clad in a fur coat for the majority of his runtime, McAvoy gives it his all. Boutella, meanwhile, plays a different sort of spy. Delphine might be amateurish, but Boutella infuses her with enough coquettish charm, steely resolve and photographic initiative to convince us that while she might not be the best, she must still be good. But everyone is outshone by the star of the show.
As Lorraine, Charlize Theron is a no-nonsense sociopath. Dressed to kill, she would look just as appropriate on the runway as she does fighting off five policemen with a garden hose. Her calm poise as she chews the cold war scenery perfectly balances the blood-soaked, gritted teeth and determined eyes as she beats the living hell out of anyone who tries to take her down. She’s a ruthless killer, but also a bastion of sensuality and elegance in a crumbling city. She is utterly incredible, and a delight to watch.
As is the action. Leitch brings all the finesse he displayed with John Wick to the table, and if some of the early battles feel a little so-so, they are all eclipsed from memory by an astonishingly long, incredibly intense fight sequence between Charlize’s Lorraine and five Berliner bad guys. It’s a brutally real scene, as the never-ending storm of assailants seems to slow Lorraine down. She struggles to get up after punches, as do her competitors. Shot in such a dynamic way as to seem constantly fresh in every new minute, the sequence will have you literally on the edge of your seat, terrified and eager in equal measure.
Coupled with a twisty ending, Atomic Blonde may have started with a banal plot, but finishes with you wanting more from this bad-ass blonde beauty and her incredible action driven adventures.
Atomic Blonde struggles under the weight of an uninteresting plot, but, ultimately, through indelible cinematography and set-design, outstanding direction and a lead performance from Charlize Theron that shows why she is one of the best in the industry, it cements it’s status in the history books. Oh, and that staircase scene is AMAZING.