ATOMIC BLONDE

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - HE­LEN O’HARA

Char­l­ize Theron’s su­per-spy heads to Ber­lin in 1989 and punches ev­ery­thing that moves. Is that why the Wall came down? Our lips are sealed.

DI­REC­TOR David Leitch CAST Char­l­ize Theron, James Mcavoy, John Good­man, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Ed­die Marsan, Bill Skars­gård

Lor­raine Broughton (Theron) is an MI6 agent sent to Ber­lin to re­cover a lost list of se­cret agents. But with the Cold War com­ing to an end, both sides want the list so they can con­trol the post-con­flict fu­ture.

PER­HAPS WE SHOULD be wor­ried, geo-po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, by the resur­gence of Cold War themes and tropes. Are film­mak­ers sens­ing the grow­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sion, or just tap­ping a nifty, para­noid aes­thetic? Atomic

Blonde thank­fully leans to the lat­ter — that it’s about style not sub­stance. Cool is pri­ori­tised over cun­ning as Char­l­ize Theron’s se­cret agent cuts a swathe through Cold War Ger­many.

Theron’s Lor­raine Broughton is an MI6 agent sent to Ber­lin just be­fore the Wall falls, where the mur­der of a fel­low agent and a lost list of spies threat­ens to ex­tend hos­til­i­ties. Broughton must find the mur­derer and re­cover the list, with the help of MI6 sta­tion chief David Per­ci­val (Mcavoy).

From the off, Broughton’s at a dis­ad­van­tage. The ter­rain is un­fa­mil­iar, and the KGB are wait­ing for her be­fore the plane even lands. That may be her own fault: in spike heels and rockchic cloth­ing she’s the least con­vinc­ing lawyer since Dr Gonzo in Fear And Loathing In Las

Ve­gas. Her con­tact, Per­ci­val, is charm­ingly un­re­li­able and op­er­at­ing his own agenda. And Ber­lin’s tan­gle of na­tional ri­val­ries fur­ther com­pli­cates things, es­pe­cially with a dou­ble agent on the loose and third and fourth par­ties also search­ing for the list (a Macguf­fin shared with Sky­fall and Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble).

It’s best not to study the plot too closely — start pulling threads and al­most every­one’s mo­ti­va­tion falls apart. And Broughton doesn’t in­vite em­pa­thy. Eyes hid­den be­hind a suc­ces­sion of great sun­glasses, she’s ex­plic­itly painted as an ice queen, reg­u­larly dous­ing her­self in medic­i­nal ice baths, her cig­a­rettes a rare sign of warmth. Yet Lor­raine is not a John Wick-alike un­stop­pable force or a Bond-ian pil­lar of the es­tab­lish­ment, in­stead skew­ing closer to In­di­ana Jones — des­per­ately bat­tling big­ger ri­vals. As you’d ex­pect from the co-di­rec­tor of

John Wick, the stunts are breath­tak­ing, with one bru­tal fight shot in long, hand-held takes that roam down stairs, through an apart­ment and into a car chase. And while it’s not a first to see a woman bat­tered about to this ex­tent on screen, it is un­usual. Most of Lor­raine’s op­po­nents are male, and none hold back. It would be deeply dis­turb­ing were it al­most any­one but Theron; she projects such for­mi­da­ble badas­si­tude that it does not for a mo­ment read like vic­tim­i­sa­tion. Broughton uses what­ever is to hand, and lever­ages her en­e­mies’ own mo­men­tum against them, so you be­lieve she could hold her own.

This all feels like a Bond ambition tour for di­rec­tor David Leitch. As such, it’s a con­vinc­ing calling card. But this is edgier and more bru­tal than any Bond film. It’s more fun than Eon’s re­cent out­put, too — mu­sic choices leav­en­ing the vi­o­lent threat and high stakes. Most of all, you’ll strug­gle to take your eyes off Theron as she earns a place be­side Bourne, Hunt and the rest.

VER­DICT It’s cool and bru­tal, but with such im­pres­sive ac­tion cre­den­tials you al­most wish there were fewer plot de­vices to dis­tract you as Char­l­ize gets up and at ’em.

MI6 agent Lor­raine Broughton (Char­l­ize Theron) takes out the bad guys.

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