80s fluorescent style, kick-ass action, wicked soundtrack and lots of vodka. These are but some of the words, which best describe Focus Features’ latest thrilling action flick, Atomic Blonde.
Atomic Blonde, directed by John Wick‘s David Leitch, is set during the Cold War and follows Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), an MI6 spy sent to Berlin, on the eve of the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989, to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and retrieve a valuable dossier of double agents. There, she is forced to partner with the embedded Berlin station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy), and the pair form a rather uneasy alliance in order to retrieve the list from a ruthless espionage ring.
Right from the get go, we are thrust knee deep into the action-packed, deceptive world of spies and are given an insight into every crevice of the game in which secret agents play. We are introduced to Lorraine, who most certainly isn’t anything like John Wick. No, Lorraine is much more. Throughout the film, viewers are treated to an agent with brilliant talents in spy-craft and brutality, all neatly wrapped into one sensual package. Highly skilled, Lorraine is illustrated as a woman who would do whatever it takes to see a mission through and stay alive, regardless of whether the mission is an impossible one.
Filled with images of distrust and disharmony, tensions are high as the MI6, CIA, the French Intelligence and KGB scurry for the missing dossier. We quickly learn that the world of spies is filled with double-crosses and lies as we, along with Lorraine, are unsure of who to trust throughout the film. The twists and misdirection in Atomic Blonde is neatly crafted and, true to Leitch’s style, is teamed with combat sequences unlike other spy films. All action sequences in Atomic Blonde are made to look real, with a lack of soundtrack during fight scenes to provide emphasis on the grueling battle. Unlike other spy characters, Lorraine and her adversaries take on significant blows and suffer. The cuts and bruises that result aren’t later hidden with make-up and the exhaustion from fighting is expressed through falls and heavy panting. In many ways, Atomic Blonde‘s combat sequences depict the reality of combat and not stylized as smooth and bloodless, as can be seen in other spy films.
The action was not the only aspect of the film that was well crafted. The entire film’s cinematography was top notch with the 8-minute long staircase fight scene filmed in almost a single shot throughout, with very minor, hidden, cuts. The use of close-ups and angled-shots throughout the film also gave off the impression of ‘realism’, personifying the fact that the events in the film was told from Lorraine’s point of view.
While masterfully portraying a bad-ass secret agent, Charlize Theron isn’t the only actor to perform her role brilliantly in the film. James McAvoy stood out as the slightly deranged David, playing the character so well that it was difficult to tell whose side he was on. One of the most memorable scenes in the film was when McAvoy almost broke the fourth wall in his monologue to Lorraine. His stare into the camera, as if he were talking to us, the audience, felt chilling.
Sofia Boutella’s character, Delphine Lasalle, also played a rather important role in the film. Her inclusion and relationship with Lorraine provided the film with a noir-esque sense and strengthened the much needed diversity in the film, at a time when female spies were mostly unheard of.
In keeping with the times, the era in which Atomic Blonde was set was unequivocal. With a wicked soundtrack, featuring hit tracks from the late 1980s, and the use of spray-paint effects and neon colours, there was little doubt of the time and setting of the film. The soundtrack selection was perfect and further solidified the sense and feel of the film. After watching Atomic Blonde, there is little doubt that the 1984 pop hit, ’99 Luftballons’ will be stuck in viewers’ heads.
Atomic Blonde may not be a female-centric John Wick film, but it is so much more. The twists and turns in the film are unique to spy films and showcases slightly more depth and thought into the narrative. The various back and forth between the past and present day provided the film with the ability to shock audiences, and the bloody fight scenes added to the sense of realism within the film. This isn’t the neat and smooth James Bond-like spy films. Atomic Blonde is darker, grittier and a heck of a lot of fun. Charlize Theron certainly gives other action-film actresses, like Scarlet Johansson and Mila Jovovich a run for their money. She was simply…atomic.