Charlize Theron is super-sexy, kick-ass spy who’s not afraid to rumble
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy & Sofia Boutella
Directed by David Leitch
James Bond made it look so easy. As moviedom’s coolest, suavest, most iconic superspy, he rarely mussed his hair, wrinkled his shirt or even appeared to get so much as a scratch or a scuff.
The espionage business is a bit rougher on Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a MI-6 agent in the late 1980s. When we first meet her, soaking in a bathtub of ice cubes, we see her blonde-haired, battered body is covered in bruises, the black and blue souvenirs of her most recent mission.
Atomic Blonde, based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, unspools in flashback as we learn Broughton’s story in debriefings with her superior (Toby Jones from Bridge of Spies) and an American C.I.A. operative (John Goodman).
Her assignment had been to slip into Berlin, on the politically charged eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and retrieve a micro-list with names and details about British and American spies before it finds its way into enemy hands.
The list is so hot, she’s told, it’s an “atomic bomb of information.”
Ice-cold Broughton was well-suited for this hot job. She’s top-ranked in “escape and evasion, intelligence collection and hand-to-hand combat,” notes the head of MI-6, “C” (James Faulkner, Randyll Tarly on Game of Thrones).
That’s an understatement, as we quickly learn. Broughton kicks, punches, shoots and stabs her way across Berlin, brutally dispatching pursuing German and Russian agents in a series of hyper-violent, show-stopping action sequences. She uses her fists, her legs, her stilettos, a refrigerator door, a set of car keys and a corkscrew, among other more conventional weapons.
Director David Leitch, a former stuntman who directed Keanu Reeves in John Wick, certainly knows how stage boffo fight scenes, and he sets up a few doozies here. One in particular, which occurs toward the end of the movie, is nearly five minutes long, shot in a single unbroken take into a building, up an elevator, down a stairwell, through an apartment and finally into the streets for a slam-bang car chase.
That one scene alone is worth the price of admission. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, and Theron does it all (apparently) without any stunt doubling. I’ve never seen any lead actress do this kind of extreme, rough-and-tumble, knockabout, faux fighting onscreen, and certainly not for these kinds of extended scenes. She takes some very real-looking (and very real) falls, slams, slaps, throws, tumble and thwacks.
I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of those bruises on Theron’s character weren’t real, too.
Sofia Boutella (the mummy in this summer’s The Mummy) plays Delphine, a sexy French spy who becomes Broughton’s lover—their same-sex nude and makeout scenes make a first for any mainstream spy movie. (Hey, there could have been something going on between Inspector Clouseau and Cato, but they kept it off-camera and on the down-low.)
James McAvoy (Split) is Percival, MI-6’s man in Berlin, whose debauched enthusiasm for the city’s thriving black-market enticements often get in the way of his job. Eddie Marsan (Terry Donovan from TV’s Ray Donovan) plays an East German agent who has memorized some priceless information and wants to defect with it.
The plot meanders and loops and convolutes in a twisty, tangled knot of double agents, double crosses, triple crosses and traitors—I lost count and I lost track. But so what? It looks great, cool and sleek and stylish and sexy, awash in splashes of neon reds and greens on chilly monochrome greys and blues, set to a soundtrack of pumping, pulsating ’80s tunes including David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Til Tuesday’s “Voice’s Carry,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” Re-Flex’s “The Politics of Dancing” and A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran.”
And gliding through it all is Charlize Theron, who’s now officially earned her rank—and her bruises—in Hollywood’s spy club.
In theaters July 28, 2017