Starring-Charlize Theron, James McAvoy
Scott’s Review #857
Reviewed January 19, 2019
Atomic Blonde (2017) is a female empowering action/spy film directed by David Leitch, a former stuntman. The film plays similarly to a James Bond film only with the genders reversed. Featuring dynamic music and cold, crisp location sequences of Europe, the film is visually stylish. The story is not the main appeal and cannot always be followed, but thanks to a great performance by Charlize Theron in the title role the film is pleasant and recommended for fans of either the spy or the action genres.
Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, the film is set in Berlin during 1989 and its major theme is the collapse of the Berlin Wall amid a spy story and the Cold War backdrop. A grizzled female MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), is quizzed about events that occurred during her recent time spent in the German city investigating the death of a fellow spy. She recounts her mission via flashbacks and the whereabouts of a mysterious list that reveals the names of MI6 and KGB Russian agents. Lorraine deals frequently with David Percival (James McAvoy), an odd colleague who may or may not be trusted.
The plot and subsequent story are hardly the finer points of Atomic Blonde and the title- a play on words of “atomic bomb” is too cute to take seriously. Given that the novice director is a former stuntman one should not expect high art nor exceptional writing material. The largest issue besides the plot holes and implausibility of the story is that it is not that engaging. After thirty minutes of trying to ascertain who had “the list” I gave up and tried not to follow too closely instead enjoying the other qualities the film offers.
Theron is well cast as bleached blonde vixen Lorraine- tough as nails and bad-ass to the core. With icy eyes and a sneer to make the toughest opponents cringe the actress contains the charisma to make the role her own. The number of fight scenes that the tall and fit woman endures are too plentiful to count, but her pizzazz and wherewithal make the character believable. Her toned and physicality is not dissimilar from her character in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Bisexual, Lorraine has a brief romantic escapade with Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a young French agent, until the woman is murdered.
Any adventurer of Europe will be enamored from a logistical perspective with the exciting locales featured heartily in Atomic Blonde. Sleek and modern, the photography and cinematography departments do a fantastic job of giving the film authenticity and audacity daring to reveal the terrific nooks and crannies the best cities have to offer. Given the number of high-speed car chase scenes and a fantastic underwater sequence, London, Paris, and Berlin are all given their just due.
The feminist overview that Atomic Blonde possesses is worthy of praise. Able to tangle with the best of them, Lorraine takes no prisoners and is determined to battle until the end or until she is too bloody to battle back. She is tough yet sensitive and puts up with no nonsense. Still she has a heart as evidenced by not only the violent death of her girlfriend and her subsequent reaction, but her calm despair at being unable to save a drowning man’s life. Lorraine’s calm and resilience instead of over-dramatic emotional outrage make her a character developed very well and a role model for young women everywhere.
McAvoy is cute as a button as David adding comic relief and sly witticisms to many scenes. He often appears shirtless exposing his lean and muscular physique. As a fan of sexual dalliances, he is both combative and flirtatious with Lorraine though he never beds her. A yin to her yang and sparring partners throughout, David is a nice addition to a cast containing mostly serious characters.
The 1980’s themed musical score features treat after treat of nostalgic songs peppered throughout the film seemingly every few moments. Atomic Blonde plays like a bold music video with intelligently penned songs not disposable crap. The inclusion adds a genuine celebration of the decade of decadence crafted in a thoughtful way. Treats such as the masterful “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday, “London Calling” by The Clash, and “Der Kommissar” by After the Fire are placed perfectly during relevant scenes.
With a ballsy lead character and enough action to envelope a nearly two-hour action thriller Atomic Blonde (2017) is a gift in atmosphere and great ambiance. Forget bothering to deep-dive into the complex story too much- it isn’t worth it. Admittedly coveting style over substance this can be forgiven because the nice elements overshadow the negatives. Atomic Blonde is best served as a kick-back and enjoy the ride experience.