DIR: David Leitch • WRI: Kurt Johnstad • PRO: A.J. Dix, Eric Gitter, Beth Kono, Kelly McCormick, Peter Schwerin, Charlize Theron • DOP: Jonathan Sela • ED: Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir • DES:
David Scheunemann • MUS: Tyler Bates • CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
The spy thriller has needed a good wake-up call for some time now. Daniel Craig’s role as James Bond has gone some way to bringing the stuffy and often silly genre into more gritty and realistic territory. Atomic Blonde goes further and while it does an excellent job for the most part, it is a flawed attempt.
Top MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of active field operatives from a KGB assassin who murdered another British spy for the list. Broughton must also assassinate Satchel, a double-agent, who has leaked information to the Soviet Union. Aiding her are naïve French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) and degenerate booze hound David Percival (James McAvoy). All this happens while the Berlin Wall falls and everyone double and triple crosses each other.
Atomic Blonde is confused as to what it wants to be. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or John Wick? James Bond or Jason Bourne? Perhaps Jane Bond or Jessica Bourne? The Bond series of films operate on a certain level of whimsy no matter how serious they get. The Bourne films are all gut punches with no room for jokes. Atomic Blonde dances on the razor’s edge between these two franchises while borrowing a great deal from the likes of director David Leitch’s previous film John Wick and the slower burning Cold War thrillers of the past. It’s too violent to be any of these films however and its characters and story suffer for this.
A lot has been made of Charlize Theron’s skills as a stunt performer in Atomic Blonde and if it’s all true then I never want to meet her in real life. Lorraine Broughton is a deadly weapon. Guns don’t often come into play in the film instead everything from hoses to corkscrews to vodka bottles are used as weapons. Atomic Blonde has a lot of brutal and visceral scenes that supersede even the hyper-violent John Wick series. In the film’s final and exquisitely shot and choreographed fight scene the violence is almost too much. After watching ten minutes of multiple stabbings, broken bones, and crippling beatings I was left gripping my seat rests and feeling slightly queasy as well. Still I can’t say I felt any more sympathetic for the characters than I did before they were left needing six weeks of physical rehab.
There are few likeable characters in Atomic Blonde. Theron and Boutella’s characters benefit from a great deal of time in the quieter moments of the film where both characters get to express and feel which is obviously rare for super-spies. McAvoy’s David Percival is a slimy, depraved pig not dissimilar from his character in Filth. Toby Jones and John Goodman as the MI6 and CIA suits respectively aren’t given much to work with while the Russian and German villains are mostly stuntmen and deserve a great deal of acclaim for getting their asses continuously handed to them by Theron.
Ass-handing is something Charlize Theron does terrifyingly well. Whether it’s stabbing a man in the neck with a stiletto or taking on four men at once in a dingy East German apartment, she can be proud of creating a female action hero capable of taking on James Bond and Jason Bourne at once. Accompanied by a bombastic soundtrack, flawlessly kinetic camerawork and superb direction by Leitch, Atomic Blonde is a film that, despite its flaws, should not be missed.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Atomic Blonde is released 11th August 2017