In recent years a trend has developed that returns well-established action stars to the physically demanding roles that they popularized in their youth, while not reprising a previous role or resurrecting an action-oriented franchise, Charlize Theron has achieved a similar milestone in her career. Ms. Theron has built her career on a robust mixture of intensely emotional dramas and high energy action-driven thrillers. After winning an Academy Award for Best Actress recognizing the frightening accurate portrayal of a serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, Ms. Theron has returned to action films in a significant way. While her performance in ‘Atomic Blonde’ pales to the ‘Mad Max’ reboot, it is something that most stresses in their forties would never consider. In an industry that demands youthful beauty and vigor, this woman defies those unjust preconceptions remaining not only one of the most popular actresses in action films but is still stunningly beautiful. ‘Atomic Blonde is admittedly a flawed movie but falling short of its potential was not because of any of the performances. The culprit is what could best be described as ‘anti-synergism.' This condition occurs when the sum of the film is considerably less than its parts. The action sequences are exciting and expertly crafted and tightly choreographed. The cast is composed of extremely talented artisans, but there was a persistent issue with establishing and maintain a solid and consistent narrative. This is not to imply that the movie was bad, it just had the potential\for so much more.
The narrative was presented in an unusual format, particularly an action-packed spy thriller. Top level MI6 field agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), is brought into an interrogation room to be debriefed concerning the details of her last assignment. Conducting the interview is her supervisor in MI6, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), accompanied by the liaison to the CIA, Senior Supervisory Special Agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). It is made obvious from the start that Lorraine’s assignment was critical with global repercussions. It is also clear that the outcome of the mission was disastrous. Lorraine is a heavy smoker going through a substantial number of cigarettes in rapid succession. The way Ms. Theron interprets her character the constant smoking was not in response to nervousness induced by the circumstances. She is a profession spy quite capable of snuffing out a human life as a matter of reflex. A debriefing, no matter how intense, wouldn’t phase her one iota. Her normally beautiful features are an accumulation of bruises, cuts and dried blood. This is a simple but effective plot device to draw the audience into the story. Curiosity is palpable with a need to know what inflicted those injuries. The ability to appreciate and subsequently enjoy this movie is heavily dependent upon the age of the viewer and their youthful tastes in movies. Starting with the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War film studios turned their attention from the jingoistic combat flicks to the exposition intensive espionage thriller. The Cold War was the single most consuming factor that drove the fears experienced by the American public. One of the focal points of this period was Berlin; a German city divided a wall with democracy thriving in the west and the Soviet Union holding the East under their Communist control. This film brings the audience back to early November 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. This was one of the pivotal moments whose effects extended beyond the socio-political conflict between two global superpowers affecting the lives of regular citizens around the world. During the deceit, misdirection, and intrigue this actual historical event grounded the story to a specific time and place as well as grounding the fanciful elements of the plot in undeniable facts.
The core aspects of the plot unfold rather slowly, complicated using an unreliable narrator. During her debriefing, Lorraine is not entirely forthcoming about the facts. Compounding this is the designated source of mission, the MI6 Berlin station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy). It would seem reasonable to assume that a person holding such a position of rank and responsibility would only be conferred to a mature, focus man of tested character. To the contrary, Percival is eccentric, prone to irrational outbursts bordering on dangerous. What we learn about the circumstances perfusing the mission comes almost completely from his perceptive. It becomes clear that his objectives do not coincide with those of the agency. In keeping with the nostalgic aspects of the film, the main plot point is one that has been utilized in a myriad of a spy novel, TV shows, and movies. A member of the German State Security, the Stasi is defecting. Known b his code name, Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). He obtained a master list of covert agents detailing identities, contacts, and organizations. Both sides are desperate to obtain this list which would be catastrophic to the other side. Most espionage stories involve some advanced technology. Within the context of this story, the spy technology is limited to a high-end wristwatch retrofitted with a wristband that conceals the list. Spyglass has been a valuable double agent giving our side secrets he gleaned from the KGB.
Stretches of tedious dialogue are punctuated by some admittedly exciting sequences with brutal fights, explosions, and gunfire. One battle is occurring close to the denouement extending close to ten minutes. This can offset a portion of the inherent flaws contained in the script but unfortunately was insufficient to redeem the film completely. There are undoubtedly fans of the genre that are satisfied with more sizzle than steak, and with action dependent thrillers this can suffice. However, the other camp in the audience demand more integration between wordy exposition and the thrills imparted by non-stop action, but ultimately this movie was unable to achieve this goal fully. It is crucial to keep in mind that the fundamental construction of the story is to emulate the classic spy movies that dominated the Cold War. In many ways, the template for these movies is found in the James Bond Franchise although considering the lack of Bond’s quintessential gadgets The Bourne movies might be a better fit. One staple of any spy thriller is the romantic entanglement with the beautiful and mysterious woman. Despite the setting of almost thirty years ago the intensely sexual relationship forms between Lorraine and Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a French undercover agent. This pairing is commonplace in modern films, but at the designated time it would be extremely unorthodox. Representing the Russian contingent intent on procuring the list is Aleksander Bremovych (Bill Skarsgård), high ranking in the Russian intelligence community. The film has its moments and is worth having, but it would have been interesting to see what its full potential could have provided.