It was said of Ginger Rogers that she must have been a better dancer than Fred Astaire because she did everything he did backwards and in heels.
One wonders if the same could be said for Charlize Theron having to follow in the bloody footsteps of Keanu Reeves. Both look great beating up or shooting antagonists in director David Leitch’s ( John Wick) action movies, but her less- than- ergonomic footwear makes her on- screen hand- tohand combat seem more impressive.
Leitch has worked as a stuntman, and he knows how to stage action. In Atomic Blonde, he finds in 1989 Berlin a nearly ideal environment for photogenic bloodshed.
As the film’s opening frames remind us, the wall that split the city for nearly three decades is about to come down. While the world now knows what happened on Nov. 9, the fate of Germany and the cold warriors who roamed the
streets of the divided city didn’t seem so obvious then.
Just about every intelligence agency in the world is trying to get a list of double agents obtained by a shadowy figure known as “Spyglass” (Eddie Marsan). MI6 has already lost an agent in pursuit of the list, so they send Lorraine Broughton ( Theron) to find out how her fellow operative died, what Spyglass knows and, while she’s at it, determine the identity of a mysterious double agent known as “Satchel.”
Oh, and of course, it’s more complicated than that. The current MI6 agent running Berlin is David Percival (a wonderfully sleazy James McAvoy), who seems more like a hipster frat boy than a spy. Thanks to a combination of inebriation and good old-fashioned duplicity, he’s as untrustworthy as the folks on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Broughton’s mission, which screenwriter Kurt Johnstad ( 300) has adapted from Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City, is expectedly loaded with twists and reversals and a great deal of exposition. While 1989 Berlin makes a terrific backdrop for a spy thriller, most of the film’s target demographic weren’t around when the Wall fell, much less when President Ronald Reagan demanded its removal.
To drive home the era, there are tons of ’80s tunes playing in the background. Leitch and company use the music cues to link portions of the story that might not make sense otherwise. The spies are supposed to be confused. We aren’t.
Once the music stops and sometimes while it’s still playing, Leitch and Theron unleash a series of creative acts of violence. If Broughton doesn’t have a pistol handy, she uses household objects to protect herself and others.
Her way of dealing with Berlin cops in an apartment complex is as imaginative as it is brutal. The movie begins with Broughton nursing her multiple wounds in a bath of ice water, and it is fun to find out how much worse the bad guys got it.
Theron’s action star credentials were established in Mad Max: Fury Road, and she burnishes them here. Thankfully, some of the supporting cast are fun, too. Sofia Boutella (who was the only good thing in The Mummy) is an oddly capable but curiously naive French agent who stalks Broughton, and John Goodman is delightfully cagey as a CIA observer.
Thankfully, Leitch doesn’t ask the big guy to do Theron’s stunts or wear her slinky outfits.
Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) endures and deals out a lot of pain in David Leitch’s violent spy thriller Atomic Blonde.