Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Sam Hart
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan
Based on: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston
Review by Stephanie Cooke
During the theatrical run of Atomic Blonde, lots of people compared the film to James Bond saying that it’s the female-led Bond that we deserve but I don’t think that’s apt. I love James Bond films like crazy – ridiculous plots, characters, and all – and Atomic Blonde is not even in the same league as Bond. We know who Bond is. We know the players around him. We know what he’s capable of to get the mission done. And we know that whatever Bond’s doing is with his sense of right and wrong in mind; we trust that in the end, he will do the right thing and that everything will come together.
We don’t know any of that with Lorraine Broughton.
Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron, is an agent that’s sent out to Berlin mere days before the wall separating Germany comes down. In the chaos, she’s tasked with finding an extremely sensitive list that contains the true names and aliases of agents working for a number of different agencies— a list that endangers countless lives by being in the wrong hands. On top of that, Lorraine must also find a double agent and expose them before it’s too late.
The plot itself is something that’s been reused over and over again in virtually every spy movie ever made. With the wrong filmmakers and the wrong cast, this could very easily have been literally any other spy movie that’s come before it. With the right direction, it turned into a film that had me from start to finish. I️ didn’t care that it had cliché plot points that I’d seen before because the journey was interesting and best of all, it was exciting… exhilarating, even.
Lorraine is so incredibly interesting for a character that we know next to nothing about. We open on a scene of her in an ice bath, and she has been to hell and back; her face and body covered in bruises and cuts. She says nothing at all, and yet her body tells us so much in just that opening scene. To me, that speaks volumes about the casting here and the direction. Charlize Theron is a great choice in virtually every film she’s in, but Leitch brought out such a coldness to her that I don’t think I’d really seen before. There were so many shots of her eyes throughout the film. I know that seems a weird thing to say, but I noticed them constantly. The shots seemed to build around them and how Lorraine was always watching and observing and calculating every single move.
I don’t feel as though I knew any more about Lorraine by the end of the movie, but I loved that about it. A spy shouldn’t have all their cards on the table. Her character leaves a lot to be discussed amongst moviegoers— her character as well as the film as a whole.
James McAvoy stars in the film as well and plays one heck of a fantastic weasel character— he’s at his finest here given free rein to take the character and really just go all over the place with him. I didn’t know what to think of him from start to finish and was thoroughly captivated by McAvoy’s performance for the first time in a role since Atonement back in 2007. It’s not that I haven’t loved his performances since then, but nothing has captivated me and really made me interested in him in quite a while, and Atomic Blonde turned that around.
So much of the cast just blew me away here but another standout was Sofia Boutella who is someone that I am completely enamored with at the moment. When she was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Something that I’ve found to be the case in everything I’ve seen her in between this, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and The Mummy. She’s not in the film a ton but she just has such an incredible stage presence that makes me really want to see her in a film where she is front and center – preferably some amazing action film.
You’ve probably seen the Atomic Blonde trailer which depicts some sexy scenes between Theron and Boutella and let me tell you: those are only sexier in the film itself. This film shows what might be one of the steamiest sex scenes between two women that I have ever seen in a mainstream film. It doesn’t feel gratuitous at all, and sexual chemistry between the actors feels organic. The scene was relatively brief, but I felt like I needed to fan myself for a bit to cool down.
Well, ahem, moving on…
This is a weird thing to love about Atomic Blonde but I loved the way that the violence is depicted in the film. As I mentioned at the beginning, Lorraine’s body looks like she’s been to hell and back. It was the first thing that made me realize that I would really like the film. In other films, huge fight scenes with people hitting each other in the face, being stabbed, etc. don’t always leave marks. They walk away from the fight with a bloody nose, but their makeup is still intact. They ultimately look like pretty actors that got into a mild scuffle and not people who just fought tooth and nail to bring the other down.
In Atomic Blonde, the fight scenes are incredible. As Lorraine fights through the people after her, her body starts to break down. You can see the fatigue setting in over time. When she gets hit, it shows. The filmmakers made sure that they didn’t shy away from showing what violence will do to you. Of course, even that is an understatement of what you would look like in a fight against someone like Lorraine or the people she’s up against. It’s so much more than we’ve seen in almost everything that’s come before.
I think it’s important to depict violence as something that ultimately ends in pain because being hit, stabbed, shot, etc. isn’t a walk in the park. Actions have consequences and the way that violence is depicted in film almost glorified it and lures us into this false sense of what it really is. I enjoy seeing movies where the true nature of the beast shows and the toll that it all takes is before you.
As I write this review, it’s making me think back on all the subtle things that I had forgotten about by the end of the film. It’s making me think about all the things that I missed or didn’t pay any mind to initially. So many clues were there, but it’s one of those films where you only really get it once all the puzzles pieces have been laid out for you. You might have suspicions (or maybe you read the original comic book, The Coldest City) but you won’t truly know until you get to the end. Even then, do you really have it all figured out? Thinking about the film like this honestly makes me want to go back and watch it immediately and appreciate the little plot points I couldn’t possibly appreciate on my first watch.
Atomic Blonde Blu-ray Special Features:
- Deleted/Extended Scenes
- Welcome to Berlin – The ultimate setting for a Cold War spy thriller, Berlin becomes a character of its own. Go behind the wall for this making-off.
- Blondes Have More Gun – Lorraine Broughton has one impressive set of skills. See what it took for Charlize Theron to fully transform herself into this tenacious character.
- Spymaster – David Leitch spins the spy genre on its head through exemplary action sequences and complex characters. Hear from cast and crew what it was like to work with this cutting-edge director.
- Anatomy of a Fight Scene – Director David Leitch breaks down the incredibly detailed long-take stairwell shot in this anatomy of a fight scene.
- Story in Motion: Agent Broughton – See Agent Broughton as you never have before in these motion storyboards.
- Story in Motion: The Chase – Gascoigne is on the run. Find out who’s after him in this motion storyboard.
- Feature Audio Commentary with Director David Leitch and Editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir
Verdict: Must buy! Whether you pick this up on Blu-ray, DVD, or grab a Digital Copy off of iTunes (or wherever), Atomic Blonde is a must-see film for action fans everywhere.
As mentioned, lots of people have compared the film to the James Bond franchise, but a better comparison would be to John Wick. No one kills her puppy (I promise). The action and the story are far more akin to that than any of the James Bond films to date. Theron, McAvoy, and Boutella are fan-freaking-tastic. You can’t go wrong with watching this film when you need your next dose of adrenaline.