Atomic Blonde star cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones
Atomic Blonde director: David Leitch
Stars: 2.5 stars
THERE are many books and magazines that line the shelves of the MI6 station chief’s den in 1989 West Berlin (days before the Wall came down), played by McAvoy in full-blown man-on-the-edge mode — nervous tics, itchy fingers, feverish eyes and hair this short of crazy. We see just one book and a magazine he owns: ‘Machiavelli’, and ‘Hustler’. David Leitch and screenplay writer Kurt Johnstad give the Italian philosopher’s politics a try, in dropped words here and there. But really Atomic Blonde has no time for old men sitting across tables, and Larry Flynt would approve.
And who wouldn’t? In its original avatar as a graphic novel, this spy vs spy story, in this most filmed fronts of all, was called The Coldest City. Charlize Theron breathes fire, yes, and fury, too, into it as ‘the atomic blonde’. No one else stands a chance as she blazes through the mess around her, whether wielding a drink on the rocks, or guns; getting out of a bath-tub, or a firefight; and matching stilettos with trench-coats, walking away gloriously from one such encounter to George Michael’s Faith (remember how it sounded then, in the 1980s?).
She also has a brief fling with a fellow female spy, and while that seems thrown in just to keep the heat up, Theron surmounts it with such authority that the men can burn. We have seen her show her action chops in Mad Max, but Theron (also co-producer) lifts her game one notch up in Atomic Blonde, given that there is almost nothing else holding it up.
Charlize’s character Lorraine has been sent into Berlin (East and West) by MI6 to retrieve a list of deep undercover double agents, that is in the danger of falling into the wrong hands. Her main contact there is Percival (McAvoy), but really, given that hair and those eyes, who is to know what he is up to. Going by those two, MI6 clearly hasn’t heard of the virtues of not standing out. Compared to them, the KGB, French, and CIA operatives are a string of colourless characters in shaggy hair who pop up only to be beaten to pulp by Lorraine (pulp is right, often with enough blood splatter to drench the camera lens).
The scenes of combat are long, prolonged, intense, scary, and Theron makes the most of them. Meanwhile, that list which everybody wants (friends, foes and countrymen) is doing the usual rounds, exchanged in discreet shops, over dead bodies, across betrayals — buoyed by speeches such as “the need to maintain the balance”. When a film where a lot of blood has already been shed starts talking about “balance”, you know what is to follow. Atomic Blonde too makes its way there, to a talk about “no winners and losers in this game”.
Spoken too soon, guys. Lorraine, take a bow. See you next time in a better film.