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Blonde, James blonde
With a canny choice of roles in the last few years, South African Hollywood star, Charlize Theron has helped redefine the action heroine. After the success of Wonder Woman, Theron is carrying the baton with some alacrity in ATOMIC BLONDE. Camus applauds the female spy…
  'Theron wanted to break the rules that had been set for women in the genre. When Lorraine gets hit, she bleeds, and Theron wore a prosthetic on her face to suggest that she was on the verge of death. "A lot of times studios or producers are not comfortable with seeing a woman with bruises," she says. "We really wanted to pay attention to that authenticity."'
  Variety article by Ramin Setoodeh*


Atomic Blonde has all the authenticity of a Road Runner cartoon. Bear with me. I really enjoyed it but… This movie features fist, elbow and foot strikes, gunshot and knife wounds and hammer blows that would render most human beings, floor bound, still and whimpering or dead. They serve two purposes in this movie. Either they underline how a ridiculously well-trained agent can carry on regardless how battered, broken and bloodied they become or the relentless blows prove that Hollywood feels it necessary to create inhuman, superhuman beings who can withstand sustained violence and assaults that the hardest marine would succumb to in a heartbeat. There is a wonderful moment when a villain and the heroin face off after many (and in the real world mostly fatal) bruising encounters. But they are both so physically compromised, they keep falling back unable to deliver a killing blow. There is authenticity and there is a Hollywood nod to authenticity. Atomic Blonde's Lorraine Broughton is to all intents and purposes a super human, a blonde Jason Bourne, though if I recall, Bourne was carefully rooted in a believable reality. Yes, she bleeds and bruises but to do what she does almost routinely, she strays way too far away from the limits of human endurance. I once read that a Saturday night brawl usually lasts one punch and cracked knuckled and broken jawed, both fighters end up in casualty. Hollywood has to raise the bar and to do that, movie after movie, you have to up the tolerance a human being can bring to the table (and then smash someone's head on it). That's why superheroes are so useful to Hollywood. Their suffering is visually spectacular. In the 80s it became cartoon-like particularly the curious idea that filmmakers had that explosions go on for 30 seconds and chase you down corridors. You can have as much 'injured' make-up on or see our heroin in a few ice baths to reduce her multiple swellings but make no mistake, authenticity is the least of this remarkable film's strengths.

Carlize Theron in (and as) Atomic Blonde

A blonde, battered, beautiful female spy returns to HQ in London for a debriefing. It's the late eighties. We know that from the thumping soundtrack, courtesy of New Order's Blue Monday which gets us in the mood and the plethora of cigarette smoke. She's been on a mission in Berlin, one that started a week or so before the great wall came down. A meek Stasi officer has the MacGuffin used in many movies these days… the list of all the Russian secret agents operating all over the world, the list that can significantly elongate the Cold War. That list has popped up in the original Mission Impossible and most recently, Skyfall. Also muse a moment on the utter stupidity of putting all that information in one document. It's a fairly over-used MacGuffin but that's unimportant as MacGuffins are wont to be. After an almost disastrous pick up at the airport, Lorraine (Theron) is introduced to British Intelligence's 'man in Berlin', Percival, a close shaven-headed, wide-eyed James McAvoy who's gone native. Essentially they are hired to obtain the list and/or support the defection of the Stasi officer (Eddie Marsan) who has the list memorised as insurance for his safe passage. The plot lines are blurred by a French intelligence rookie Delphine, played by Sofia Boutella, fresh from Mummy duties. There's certainly a little fizz watching her and Theron interacting, guns out or in flagrante delicto. There are few actresses out there in so much command of their on screen selves. The nudity and the casual nature of its coverage suggest that Theron was hugely committed to this character. It's like Lorraine Broughton doesn't care that you catch a nipple almost by accident at the bottom of frame as she heals in an ice bath and that confidence is beguiling. It's not the sexuality of the moment but the unguarded vulnerability and not caring that we are watching. Well, there are killings, extraordinarily built Russian and German spies and über-brutal fights that convinced me that Theron and co. really, really got fit for this show. I'm not sure how many visual effects enhanced the fight scenes (I'd like to think none) but they are utterly convincing even if one tenth of the blows landed would normally kill anyone else. Despite the invincibility of much of the cast, you do care and care enough as alliances are forged, enemies routed and crosses, doubled.

What makes Atomic Blonde work so well is the cleverly constructed slow burn screenplay, the playful punk aesthetic, the action – especially the stunt people and actors involved – and, believe it or not, the acting. The espionage action thriller is not known for its thespianic excellence but boy, Theron and McAvoy really sell it. Until now, I had never seen McAvoy as a credible action lead. In Wanted, he was dominated somewhat by Angelina Jolie's brash superwoman and as Professor Xavier, he's not required to flex muscles in the X Men franchise but he has turned me around as Percival. Great actors can do that; convince you of their milquetoast credentials and then come on like Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. I was thrilled to be so wrong about an actor's suitability. Theron is astoundingly good as a credible superspy and her disregard of illusions of beauty and convention lend her performance an air of "Think what you will of me, I don't care," which for an ostensibly gorgeous Dior model is one hell of a volte face but then in Monster, you could see that side of her character. In Hollywood parlance, she would be described as 'brave', a word whose real weight depends on its context. The leads are lent good support by their spy chiefs, Toby Jones and his CIA mirror played by John Goodman. Directed very confidently by David Leitch (his first solo effort after getting no credit for his work on John Wick) Blonde does a little to give away his career to date. More famous as a stuntman and stunt coordinator, Leitch works to his evident talents but give the man his due. His sensibility towards his actors is first rate. You do not get performances like this by only being concerned when the next punch is to be thrown. Bravo.

Your brain will not be stretched to any point, let alone breaking, by Atomic Blonde but you may just enjoy a few hours of brutal, superbly directed action, Cold War shenanigans and heartfelt and committed performances. Add in the final twisty turns (de rigueur for a spy movie) and an enjoyably vicious romp dripping with style and charisma awaits you at your local cinema.



Atomic Blonde poster
Atomic Blonde

USA | Germany | Sweden 2017
115 mins
directed by
David Leitch
produced by
A.J. Dix
Eric Gitter
Beth Kono
Kelly McCormick
Peter Schwerin
Charlize Theron
written by
Kurt Johnstad
based on the graphic novel series The Coldest City by
Antony Johnston
Sam Hart
Jonathan Sela
Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir
Tyler Bates
production design
David Scheunemann
Charlize Theron
James McAvoy
Eddie Marsan
John Goodman
Toby Jones
James Faulkner
Roland Møller
Sofia Boutella

See all of Camus' reviews