By DIEGO CAGARA
When packaged with raw sex appeal, an impeccable sense of style, whispery dialogue and a strong core of self-confidence, leading actress Charlize Theron fully embodied the “Atomic Blonde” title, proving that women too can headline an action spy movie. Released nationwide on July 28, this R-rated summer flick became quite the violent roller coaster, being an adaptation of the graphic novel, “The Coldest City” (2012) by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart.
Theron had already championed the don’t-try-me-because-I’m-not-a-free-sample persona in films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and “The Fate of the Furious” (2017). In this film, she was dropped into the streets of 1989 Berlin, before the wall fell, an arena that already evoked chaos and rebellion. Playing Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent, Theron both came across as intimidating with her towering height and feminine with her wardrobe choices, making her somewhat similar to her male counterpart, James Bond.
Teaming up with David Percival (James McAvoy), she must find a specific wristwatch that contains a list of Soviet agents’ names and locate Satchel, an unknown double agent who’s said to leak information from MI6 to the Soviet Union. The film also is presented in flashbacks as a visibly-wounded Broughton was interrogated about her actions in Berlin and the viewer watches on as more information emerged while facing a number of plot twists.
The filmmakers did a tremendous job in trying to transport the viewer into circa-1989 Berlin as graffiti often colored the buildings there, many young German adults were seen as always partying and drinking every night, and the Berlin Wall was facing imminent demolition. Something that deserves praise too is how the filmmakers managed to include many German and English music of the 1980s in the film, like that of The Police and the famous “99 Luftballons” song. While Berlin was evidently the epicenter of much civil unrest and intense emotion, Broughton and Percival had to deal with a crisis on their parts which if they did not succeed, the Cold War was said to last another 40 years.
For the R-rated film enthusiast, “Atomic Blonde” is bejeweled with sex, nudity, profanity, action and violence. The film did begin with a nude Broughton having an ice bath and her sensuality was explored further when she met and shared a bed with French Intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle, portrayed by Sofia Boutella who is clearly trying to flex her acting career’s muscles this year after appearing on “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2015), “Star Trek Beyond” (2016) and “The Mummy” this year.
The film suffered from slow pacing at first, with scattershot brief action sequences, lots of dialogue and shots of Berlin’s landmarks like the Wall, Alexanderplatz and Berliner Fernsehturm. Watching the characters, especially Broughton, constantly light and smoke their cigarettes as well as drink seemingly excessive amounts of alcohol personally got annoying although it clearly was part of the film’s overall intended aesthetic.
“Atomic Blonde” really picked up when Broughton and Percival began trying to help an important defector named “Spyglass” and his family escape Berlin while a massive crowd of civilians were protesting against the Wall. This led to an intense and unforgettable fight scene where she fought off two henchmen, even becoming a punching bag herself as she became noticeably injured amid the kicks, punches, bone cracking and falls down the stairs. The fight continued into a room where Broughton grew more desperate and exhausted form the physical exertion, making the scene far more dramatic. All the while, a shot and bleeding Spyglass watched on helplessly, briefly trying to help her but to no avail.
This fight sequence was filmed all on one single take—or at least, it looked like one—which spoke to how professional and proficient the filmmakers and director David Leitch were. The sheer brutality also was emphasized by how Broughton constantly grunted and briefly screamed out loud as she pushed against her limits to fend off the henchmen. Production-wise, the camera remained perpetually kinetic, keeping very close to the combat like a demanding viewer longing for action and ensuring that one can not only cherish the violence, but also note the characters’ frantic facial expressions.
It also bore huge similarities to the brutal staircase fight scene in 2006’s “Casino Royale” which had starred Daniel Craig as James Bond.
“Atomic Blonde” unfortunately got somewhat confusing at its end as the reveal of who the Satchel was felt convoluted. Herein presented the issue of who was considered a double or triple agent, and who the audience should trust.
But one thing for sure was that the wardrobe in this film was commendable.
The combination of Theron’s impressive height and her outfits boasted both fashion and function. Notably, she wore a pristine-white top coat which sadly got involved in a violent fight scene but miraculously, it appeared harmless by the end. Her seemingly endless array of coats, sunglasses, knee-high boots and the occasional fishnets communicated how much of a stylistic chameleon she was. In one scene, she oozed elegance, confidence and poise but in another, she appeared vulnerable and okay with taking fashionable risks. It all revolved back to how the wardrobe department of a film can be so vital to the production.
Kind of like how Theron’s character endured physical abuse, trauma and betrayal, the film itself withstood its initial sense of slow pacing and finished with thrilling action despite a final perplexing plot twist. Its late-1980s Berlin setting also definitely gave the film an intriguing backdrop to operate on and with the intercourse among blood, rapid fight choreography and sensuality, the film can become a gem for R-rated movie lovers.