Image from www.denofgeek.com
I may be coming to the party a little late with this, but I have now finally seen Atomic Blonde in the cinema. Directed by David Leitch and written by Kurt Johnstad, the film stars Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella and John Goodman in this Cold War-era spy thriller.
Charlize Theron is the ice-cold MI6 spy lead, and she is fantastic. The film is set against the fall of the Berlin Wall and sees Charlize as the MI6 spy sent in to assist her fellow MI6 operative David in Berlin, played by the brilliant James McAvoy, to recover a list of all of the world’s spy agents, suddenly lost due to the murder of a fellow spy. There is obvious interest in this list from all sides, including the French, Russians and the Americans, and thus follows suspicion and double-dealing from almost all of the players.
The film opens with Charlize in a large marble ice bath, covered in bruises. The shot is cold and stylistically bleak, as are many of the shots throughout the film. We then cut to her debriefing in a two-way interview room in MI6, with the film being loosely narrated through her flashbacks of the past ten days in this interview. We follow her through a web of deceit and doubt, through her affair with the naive French agent played by Boutella, to the growing distrust she has for her supposed MI6 ally David. There are a series of sharp plot swerves in the final ten minutes of the film, one of which I saw coming, and one I had not expected at all. No spoilers here though! Personally, I felt that the last minute plot twists were unnecessary and jarred ever so slightly with the rest of the film, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film.
There is a hefty amount of violence throughout the film, starting very early in with Charlize stabbing a man with her crimson stilettos. The violence reaches a crescendo in a long single-shot fight scene she has with the Russian agents. It is bloody, unapologetic and starts to feel a little uneasy. The blows are in real time and we feel each one, grimacing with them. Violence against women in movies is something that I either feel is included carelessly or gratuitously in films, but not in this case. This is a woman trained in combat with knows what she is getting into. However, some viewers might understandably feel uncomfortable with the scene.
Based on a graphic novel called “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, its origin as a graphic novel is evident throughout the film in its artistic styling and its choreographed fight scenes. There is almost a cartoonish quality to some of the shots, although not anywhere near the extent of Sin City, with locations and dates being spray painted on the screen throughout the movie. There are also many almost monochrome shots with cigarette smoke curling up, made more dramatic by the stark contrast to Theron’s almost platinum hair and pale face.
Overall, the film is a stylish and brutal piece of art, one which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. Charlize Theron once again delivers a seamless performance and it is this performance that knits together the arty cinematography and violence into something beautiful.