The combination of her work as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road and spy Lorraine Broughton in David Leitch’s uber-violent Atomic Blonde leads me to believe that Charlize Theron is the best game in town for an action movie heroine. Broughton is a character whose motives may always be questionable, but Theron – when not pummeling wicked men into submission – brings insight and depth to the character with as little as a flick of the eye or a smile.
In the picture, Broughton has been sent – in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall – to Germany to – well, I’ll try to explain this – play a role in the transporting of a Russian mole from East Berlin to West Berlin. The mole is named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) and he apparently has a list that is frequently referenced, but as vague and mysterious as the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.
Broughton’s guide in Berlin is a shifty character named Percival (James McAvoy), but she is surrounded by numerous characters with suspicious motives – a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella), a CIA spook (John Goodman), a British intelligence officer (Toby Jones) and numerous Russians, most of whom want to kill Lorraine.
Atomic Blonde is bathed in neon and much of the action is set to the tune of such 1980s hitmakers as ‘Til Tuesday, Nena, New Order, David Bowie, After the Fire and Public Enemy. In terms of style, Atomic Blonde comes up aces. As for story, well, the picture remains entertaining throughout – for the most part – although its labyrinthine plot leaves those attempting to figure out who’s double crossing whom in the dust.
But the picture’s focal point – which should come as no surprise as it has been directed by Leitch, who is a former stuntman – is a series of incredible fight scenes, each one more brutal and beautifully choreographed than the next. The most intense one involves Theron and several men on a staircase that, for the life of me, baffles as to how it was accomplished without any of the actors killing or seriously wounding themselves. There’s also a stylish shootout in the film’s finale and a whole number of broken bones, gouged cheeks (ouch!) and car chases in between.
Atomic Blonde might leave you scratching your head if you’re attempting to follow its numerous twists and turns and it doesn’t tell you much about the fall of the Berlin Wall other than, well, it made a lot of people happy.
But the film has some nice touches – especially a lesbian sex scene that comes off as liberating rather than tackily added for the sake of titillation and a sequence during which Broughton fights a group of men in a theater screening Andrei Tarkovsky’s legendary Stalker – and it’s a mostly thrilling, brutal, high energy and well made action picture that proves that Theron is a bona fide action star. In Atomic Blonde, she’s a force of nature.