Charlize Theron’s character is put through the wringer as the Berlin Wall comes down in Atomic Blonde. This stylish and violent spy thriller is based on a graphic novel series, The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. The screenplay is by Kurt Johnstad and directed by David Leitch (John Wick).
It’s 1989 in Germany. The Berlin Wall is about to come down, sparking a realignment of superpower alliances. On an average day in the spy game, it’s difficult to know who to trust. But it’s totally impossible amidst the powder keg that is this coldest of cities. Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a steely and seductive agent for MI6, has been dispatched to Germany to take down a ruthless espionage ring. These spies have just killed an Allied undercover agent, for reasons unknown. Targeted for elimination mere minutes after her arrival, Broughton survives and is obliged to cooperate with reckless Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy).
Casting a wary eye on the two agents are MI6 investigator Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and high-ranking CIA operative Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). The pair have been assigned to monitor Broughton’s mission. Broughton also finds herself tailed by French intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). Lasalle’s personal interest in her soon intensifies into a torrid affair. All these operatives, and more surrounding them, are trying to thwart a threat to the West’s entire intelligence operation. That happens to be a list of the identities and personal details of all Western agents operating in Berlin – compiled by an East German Stasi officer.
The film’s central conceit is that Broughton is put under the microscope after the Berlin job goes horribly pear-shaped. The story unfolds as she is quizzed by her superiors. She relates – and we see in flashback – what went down.
Double crossing is the name of the game, with British, French and Russian spies in play. The story is convoluted – downright confusing at times. Suffice to say, it’s the choreographed action that really makes this movie what it is. Theron’s Broughton could give Keanu Reeve’s John Wick a run for his money. You can see director Leitch’s pedigree all over this.
Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) proves yet again how reliable and accomplished she is in headlining a film. All the events revolve around her character. James McAvoy thrives in his badass role as a Berlin-based operative for MI6. Those performances, and a seriously good, high-octane soundtrack, make Atomic Blonde what it is.
We have, of course, seen this kind of thing before. But the graphic novel series on which this is based lends itself to this kind of treatment. Atomic Blonde is one for the adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. Not surprisingly, there’s a twist in the tail. I’m pleased to also be able to say that if you stick with it, the plot comes together before the final credits. Mind you, it felt like a long sit at near enough to two hours.
Rated MA, Atomic Blonde scores a 7 out of 10.
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, Til Schweiger, John Goodman
Release Date: 3 August 2017
Rating: MA 15+
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television