Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Leitch
Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner, Til SChweiger, Barbara Sukowa, Sophia Boutella, Roland Moller, Bill Skarsgard, Martin Angerbauer.
Berlin 1989. The Cold War is in its death throes, and the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War that has divided East and West for three decades, is about to be torn down. Into this tense period of history comes Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a British agent who has come to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and retrieve a list containing the names of double agents and bring it back to MI6. Her contact in Berlin is the suave and cocky David Percival (James McAvoy). At the start of her mission Lorraine was told “Don’t trust anyone,” and that advice comes into play as soon as she arrives in Berlin, a city which is crowded with spies and Russian troops. Surveillance and security is pervasive, and the city is shaped by paranoia and suspicion.
But it is clear from the moment she lands in Berlin that her mission is compromised. She and Percival have to figure out a way to smuggle a defecting Stasi agent known as Spyglass (played by Eddie Marsan) out of the city. Spyglass has memorised the list of names.
Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City written by Antony Johnson, and has been adapted to the screen by Kurt Johnstad (Act Of Valor, 300, etc). He gives the film a non-linear structure that moves back and forth between the action in Berlin and a debriefing room in England where Lorraine recounts her mission to her handlers (Toby Jones and James Faulkner) and a CIA representative (John Goodman) who are keen to find out what went wrong. There are plenty of twists in the sinuous and complicated plot, and even die-hard fans of the spy thriller genre won’t see a couple of them coming.
Atomic Blonde is an action thriller with some spectacular set pieces. There are some spectacular and quite brutal and carefully choreographed hyperactive action sequences here. The highlight is a knock down, bone crunching and brutal fight on a stairwell which was apparently shot in one continuous take and is one of the more bruising fight sequences ever staged on screen. This type of brutal action is a trademark for director David Leitch, a former stunt co-ordinator who co-directed the equally brutal John Wick. He steps out on his own here and is an accomplished director of action, and the film is quite stylishly handled. He also loves his head shots, and there is plenty of blood and carnage and a high body count here.
Berlin has been the setting for a number of bleak and intelligent cold war thrillers like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Quiller Memorandum, etc, and cinematographer Jonathan Sela (John Wick, Max Payne, etc) gives the city a suitably bleak and desolate look with a chilly, muted blue palette that captures the frosty tension.
As a lethal platinum blonde spy, Theron delivers a committed and physical performance here as the kick arse action heroine and brings a thoroughly convincing physicality to the role. There is also a quite erotic sex scene between her Broughton and Lasalle (Sophie Boutella), a French photographer caught up in events. McAvoy is quite a versatile and charismatic actor (consider his work in the recent Split where he played a complex array of different personalities) and he brings a suitably slippery quality and devilish charm to his performance as the enigmatic Percival. Marsan effortlessly brings a typically weasly quality to his performance. The supporting cast comprises an ensemble of familiar character actors in small roles, including German actors Til Schweiger and Barbara Sukowa.
Along with Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 and Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde features one of the great, must have soundtracks of this year. The film is set in 1989 and features plenty of songs from that year, including Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, and Queen and David Bowie’s rousing Under Pressure.