They shot part of the new action thriller Atomic Blonde in Germany, no doubt filming in some of the same locations that were there during the Cold War. Some money and effort has gone towards featuring retro technology of the time, the actors wear clothes that are suitably stylish for today’s tastes but impossibly evocative of the late 80s, the film’s lighting shows the colours of heroin chic and the soundtrack boasts the songs that were on the radio at the time.
However Atomic Blonde looks like it is set in the 1980s rather than being evocative of the 1980s in the same way that it is like a good spy thriller but it isn’t one. It is all style and no substance but my oh my-what style! A spy film that honours all the tropes, with agents who keep the local bottle-os afloat with their penchant for one particular spirit that always has its logo facing camera, debriefs with staid imperious bureaucrats, and double heck even triple or quadruple crosses. Because why the hell would a double cross be enough?
Ultimately the film is elevated by one Charlize Theron who is at the height of her powers at the moment. Playing Lorraine Broughton of British Intelligence she is sent to Berlin during the dying days of the Cold War following the murder of a Western spy in the city. Her contact in country is David Percivall (James McAvoy) who immediately strikes her as untrustworthy and definitely operating outside of regulations. She also attracts the attention of French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sophia Boutella) and Stasi officer Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Moller) as she attempts to retrieve important information that maybe only Eddie Marsan’s character Spyglass knows enough about. The plot is no Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Broughton’s plight is also all about mood and looks. She’s on a mission to unearth a killer and retrieve something but it quickly matters little.
That’s not to say that all the meandering is meaningless, the cast takes the film seriously enthusing their roles with personalities and contradictions. Theron who trained for months before shooting is at the forefront of some sensational fight scenes, I don’t care what cheating techniques were used if any, this is a physical role and Theron is one of the most physically adept actresses working today. She cuts a powerful figure but not without limitations and vulnerabilities. When the fighting begins we’re with her all the way feeling every hit that forces her to the ground and delighting in every killer move that hand her triumph until the next opponent.
The fact that Theron can give us this as a physical performer and then also speak volumes with a gaze at a dead body is an embarrassment of riches. See if there’s a role for her in a Tinker, Tailor sequel. The rest of the cast is all as good as their reputations would lead you to expect, Jones in particular plays his listening superior Eric Gray as the least poker faced and is all the more effective because of it. Boutella has the right amount of naivety and fire and McAvoy called upon to be many things might have the hardest time but remains committed throughout. It might have been nicer to have him play off Theron more with an emotional connection of questionable authenticity.
Directed by one half of the team that brought you the original John Wick, former stuntman David Leitch has made an action film with flair, long tracking shots that travel through whole buildings following melees that involve meticulous fight choreography that make you feel the blows. Working off a limited budget the film looks very sleek with some great lighting and attention paid to replicating that time period.
This is a lively film that never bores owing perhaps its heightened look and sensibilities to its comic book origins but it is hard to lock onto caring much about the characters who remain mysterious and aloof for the most part. That at times can mean what is happening onscreen is not of much interest until the next fight scene starts. Yet it is fun and it is one more thing too, it is further proof that Charlize Theron is one of the great movie stars of today.