Atomic Blonde is set in 1989 Berlin mere days before the Berlin wall fell. Charlize Theron plays Agent Lorraine Broughton, MI6’s most lethal assassin, who is described as equal parts spycraft, sensuality, and savagery.
As the Soviet union was losing its grip on East Germany with mass defections, Theron’s character is sent alone into Berlin to recover a priceless bit if intelligence out of the destabilized city before it falls. She partners with embedded station chief David Percival, played by James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) to navigate her way through a doomed mission.
As we last saw in Max Mad: Fury Road, Theron excels as an action star. Here, even more so. Her agent Broughton makes James Bond look like a laughable wimp. Not only could she take Jason Bourne, she could to it in high heels.
Director David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool 2) does a stunningly good job weaving together complicated story lines and action sequences penned by screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (300) into a smart and smartly packaged whodunit that would suffer in less-skilled hands.
We’re in the midst of sting of films and TV series that are mining 80s nostalgia. Leitch does something rare: he actually captures the nihilistic undertones of the time; in 1989, things we do not think about today could kill you – including sex and if you lived in East Berlin, the government.
The way the director captures the very thin veneer of glamour covering the bruised grip of despair of that era is spot-on.
Case in point: actress Sofia Boutella, who starred as the title character in this year’s The Mummy fell flat under the paint-by-numbers direction of that film by Alex Kurtzman. But in Atomic Blonde, as Theron’s love Interest and an undercover French agent, Delphine Lasalle, she shines.
The bedroom scenes with Theron and Boutella transcend lezplotation titillation of grindhouse films. They are truly sexy, but they also are filled with a desperation that shows this lesbian scenes serve an actual purpose for the plot rather than to merely appeal to straight dudes who want to watch two women do each other.
The soundtrack also is phenomenal – especially in how it is used, reflecting the ubiquitous-ness of pre-goth alternative music of the era.
All that, and it has the best twist ending since The Usual Suspects.
The film also stars John Goodman, Bill Skarsgard, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones. Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City,” written by Antony Johnston and illustrated Sam Hart. Rated R.