1989 was an interesting time politically. It is the start of the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a time of unrest and violence, riots and police beatings. But it was also the end of a secret war that had been going on underneath the nuclear tensions of the Cold War. Networks of spies and agents secretly spying on each other and themselves, gaining information and power over the other side. These tales have been a rich pool from which authors and filmmakers have drawn; John Le Carre’s George Smiley couldn’t exist without the 1970s backdrop of Soviet mistrust and neither could a film released this year by the same team that brought us the highly stylised action flick, John Wick. Behold Atomic Blonde, directed by David Leitch and starring Charlize Theron, a movie drenched in blood and neon. But the question is, if it is drawing on the same issues as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, should it be placed alongside this pinnacle of spy fiction?
After the death of one of their agents, James Gascoigne, MI6 sends Lorraine Broughton to secure a list of every active field agent in the Soviet Union, as well as uncover the double agent that gave up Gascoigne.
Due to its nature as a spy thriller, Atomic Blonde must have a decent plot, able to withstand some sharp twists and turns. I can say that for the most part the film does its best. There are some slight leaps that the writers ask audience members to make that are a little too far for them to be totally believable. There are also a lot of moving parts to this story, there is the list, the double agent, protecting an ex-Stasi officer who is defecting as well as the main character navigating different spies and allegiances to stay on top. This is all told in retrospective by Lorraine Broughton herself to her superiors. While people will argue that this detracts from the suspense of the film, I would perhaps say that this adds a layer of doubt to her tale, this is after all a spy mystery about a double agent.
What made the weaker story easier to accept and the leaps of faith was a movie that was dripping with atmosphere with a pumping soundtrack from the 80s and cinematography from the same man who shot John Wick, Jonathan Sela. This film’s use of colour is gorgeous, rich reds, greens and blues drench the screen adding to a dark and gritty atmosphere that suits the genre of the film perfectly.
However even more important than that was the impressive fight choreography: people jumping off buildings with hoses attached to other people, gun fights, fist fights, knife fights, car fights, just a lot of fights. Each well shot and edited to create and adrenaline fuelled experience, though that was probably a given seeing as the director of Atomic Blonde, David Leitch, was a stuntman and the director of John Wick. Standouts include a fight in a car, the fight in Gasgoin’s apartment and the stairwell action set piece. All are visceral and intense and even though we know Lorraine survives, Theron sells a sense of fear that connects the audience to this bad ass and enable us to route for her more effectively.
Speaking off Charlize Theron, after her performance in Mad Max: Fury Road she has solidified herself as one of the leading figures in the modern female action hero. Her Lorraine Broughton is the lifeblood of the film, cool collected and ready to punch anyone in the face, mainly James McAvoy’s David Percival, the charismatic station chief with a penchant for drinking and smirking. He is always entertaining in any film he is in and I could watch this slimy individual all day and not get bored. Both work tremendously well together and are incredibly watchable and though Theron is more restrained this time around, even a coy look or a slightly raised eyebrow is enough to communicate everything that is needed.
Atomic Blonde, despite a slightly weak story, is an explosion of 80’s nostalgia, blood and bad ass action. It is a film that will leave your heart in your mouth and 80’s synth drum pounding in your ears and I loved every second of it. This is one to see in cinemas, the larger than life action and sumptuous colour palette requires a large screen a dark room and the time to appreciate every fist to the face.
You can watch Atomic Blonde in Cinemas now