Distributed by: Focus Features
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I recently saw previews for an action film that immediately caught my attention. The amount of action in the promos was just enough to get me interested. A video showing the lead actress actually doing her own stunts got me more interested. A preview of a scene in which the heroine must save herself using a high-heeled shoe…well, that sold me. I was ready to see Atomic Blonde the minute I could get a chance.
Based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is set in 1989, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. As the film opens, British Mi6 Agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is murdered by KGB Agent Yuri Bakhtin (Johannes Haukur Johannesson) who steals Gasciogne’s watch. Hidden inside: The List, a comprehensive database containing the names and aliases of every single active field agent in the Soviet Union. Mi6 Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to recover this List and assassinate a double agent named Satchel who has been selling intelligence to the Soviet Union for years.
However, upon arriving in Berlin to meet up with her contact, David Percival (James McAvoy), Lorraine is ambushed by KGB operatives. Lorraine is immediately suspicious, but becomes more so as she conducts her investigation into Gasciogne’s death. She believes that Percival is setting her up and that belief is given more credence after a relationship with French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sophia Boutella) yields up more information about Percival.
When Lorraine learns that Percival knows the whereabouts of a Soviet defector, codenamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who has memorized the List, she makes getting him out of East Germany a priority, as his getting into the wrong hands is just as dangerous as the KGB getting their hands on the actual List. But when the rescue mission is botched, Lorraine finds her own life on the line. Can she survive her opponents long enough to achieve the objectives of her original mission?
Based on the name of the movie and the promos, I had an inkling that Atomic Blonde might be based on a graphic novel, so I was prepared for heavy action of the bloody sort. That being said, I still was totally unprepared for the pace of this film. This is an action film that’s a cut above the rest. Fight scenes are amazingly choreographed and you find yourself wincing at the pain inflicted on characters, heroes as well as villains (when you can figure out which is which). There aren’t just guns, knives and fists used as weapons in this film. Characters use whatever they can get their hands on to inflict pain, including skateboards, high heel shoes, keys, ice picks and more. Bloodier moments have a bit of a lapse, allowing for blood to spatter across the screen view. Gross, but cool at the same time.
Surprisingly, Charlize Theron is very believable in her role as Lorraine Broughton. This is only the third real action role I’ve seen her in and this one blows the others away. In addition to her action lead prowess, Theron gives us some decent emotion – hate, loathing, pity, lust…it’s all there and all believable depending on who she’s directing it toward. She even does a decent British accent. James McAvoy – well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him perform badly, but in this film, there is something about his rendition of James Percival that makes you want to wring his neck. That’s a good thing – it means he is playing his part well. John Goodman plays a small role in this film. You really don’t know what his deal is until the very end. Sophia Boutella shows a great deal of raw emotion here. I haven’t seen much of this actress prior to this film, but I’m thinking she’s one to keep an eye on.
The storyline is believable if you know anything about the time period it takes place in. The spy game was going hot and heavy then between Mi6, the KGB, the CIA, etc. The idea that a list of spies, their activities and their alternate identities could be out there is a no brainer – just ask Snowden. The ramifications of such a list falling into the wrong hands are unthinkable. But it’s the plot twist here that will really grab you. I won’t give things away, but an error in the film midway through will give you a hint, if you are really paying attention.
There are a couple of errors in the film, in fact. Clothing and hairstyles – however progressive they are in Europe – were off by a decade. So were some of the cars. And rolling luggage bags…well, they made their appearance well after 1989. But only those who know about the era will really notice those issues. And mainly those who know the era will recognize that the soundtrack of Atomic Blonde is amazing. These are songs we grew up with like 99 Luftballons, Voices Carry, Father Figure, Fight the Power, Major Tom, I Ran (So Far Away), Der Kommissar and more. The fact that some of these songs are set to action scenes – I never would have expected some of these to be set to action scenes, but, somehow, it works..
And just like any spy/action/thriller, there is a very…and I do mean very…steamy love scene in Atomic Blonde. This one I didn’t expect. Sure, there are usually sex scenes in spy films like this. Take James Bond, for instance. He had some pretty decent love scenes. But they were nothing compared to this steamy number – woah!
So, let’s sum up Atomic Blonde in a nutshell, shall we? Atomic Blonde is a spy action thriller based on a graphic novel set in 1989 Berlin just before the wall comes down that will push you toward heart attack mode with the knock-down, drag out, adrenaline-pumping action scenes. Visually stylistic, graphic novel style, utterly jaw-dropping fight scenes pepper this film, but it isn’t just about the action. It’s about the mystery as well – who’s the double agent and why are they working both sides? There’s only one way to find out – go see the movie! Male or female, you won’t be disappointed!