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Theron joins action’s top echelon with slick Atomic Blonde
Punch kick stab shoot.
Borrow from Bourne and Bond.
Rinse and repeat.
This is the recipe for the quite ridiculous, ultra-violent and deliriously entertaining Atomic Blonde, a slick vehicle for the magnetic, badass charms of Charlize Theron, who is now officially an A-list action star on the strength of this film and Mad Max: Fury Road.
She’s a drop-dead bombshell who will drop you dead before you know what hit you.
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City and directed by David Leitch, whose resume includes stunt double work for Brad Pitt on five films (and reportedly co-directing John Wick, though he didn’t receive an official credit), Atomic Blonde is set in 1989 Berlin—an inspired backdrop, given the Wall was about to come tumbling down, the streets were pulsating with electric tension, and Leitch gets an excuse to set extended action sequences to the sounds of Father Figure, 99 Luftballoons, Voices Carry and Under Pressure.
From the get-go, Atomic Blonde announces itself as a self-consciously stylised and absolutely derivative thriller. The first song Leitch features is Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by the great David Bowie—the title song of the 1982 erotic horror film by Paul Schrader.
Atomic Blonde is framed by one of the most time-honoured storytelling devices: the lead character (in this case Theron’s super-spy Lorraine Broughton) is brought in for questioning after an operation has gone haywire, and as she spins her story, we flash back to recent events.
And what a tangled, convoluted, nearly headache-inducing story she weaves.
Broughton arrives in Berlin on assignment from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Her mission is to gain possession of the obligatory list revealing the names, locations and other personal information of Allied spies around the globe. Five minutes after arriving in the city, Broughton is fighting for her life — setting the tone for a film that rarely takes its foot off the accelerator.
The Berlin of Atomic Blonde is bubbling over with spies and hired assassins and double agents and mysterious operatives. Lorraine’s British contact is the wild card David Percival (James McAvoy), who seems to be working every angle possible and whose loyalties are called into question very early on.
It’s possible David will become a love interest for Lorraine. It’s also possible he’ll try to have her killed. Maybe both. Hmmm, how many times have we seen that in the James Bond canon of films?
The visuals in Atomic Blonde pop right off the screen. Director Leitch periodically zooms in for tight close-ups of the stunning Theron, who conveys a world of emotions with a subtle movement of the eyes.
After a middle section that lags just a bit, things kick up another notch—make that about 147 notches—with a fantastically entertaining and brutally funny fight sequence that would have even Jason Bourne gasping for breath. The camerawork in that sequence is cinematic jazz—amazing to behold.
Not every twist in Atomic Blonde is as “twisty” as the filmmakers might have envisioned. And there are so many bad guys the evil quotient is a bit diluted. If there’s a truly worthy adversary to the ATOMIC BLONDE, it’ll have to be in a sequel.