Atomic Blonde; 115 min; Rated R
“Atomic Blonde” is adapted from the graphic novel “The Coldest City,” written by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart. That fact alone should begin to define what the audience can expect from this film: Call it pulp cinema or a B-movie with A-list actors.
Oscar winner Charlize Theron portrays British MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, the blonde who is in every frame of what could be called a period action-adventure-thriller. Some could say, however, that that definition is a euphemism for a movie that fetishizes violence.
“Atomic Blonde” might also be referred to as cinema cool, a post-modern film that it is all motion with what could be called plot-lite. The year is 1989, and the wall separating East Berlin from the West is about to fall. A German/Russian Stasi agent (Eddie Marsan), a longtime member of the secret police, is trying to defect to the West with a much-coveted list of double agents. His bargaining chip. It’s Lorraine’s mission to get the agent out of harm’s way while trying to avoid at all cost the Russian bad guys (KGB) whose ruthless job it is to take out Lorraine, plus the defector, and above all retrieve the list. This means that the Brit agent is fighting for her and his life in a series of ultra-violent, perfectly choreographed encounters, each a set piece wherein the Russians are kicked, stabbed, pummeled in some very bloody, brutal, up-close and personal fight scenes.
“Atomic Blonde” is set, most of the time, in the grey, stark, almost monochromatic East Berlin, a place that is crumbling, reeks of nihilism, and is testimony to governmental malpractice, also known as socialism with a totalitarian attitude (framed by a hammer and sickle).
The film is also an example wherein serious exposition is no longer necessary. All that is required to keep this movie moving along can be found in the persona of Lorraine and a long series of confrontational vignettes. No backstory of any character is needed. Call it Eurotrash with style and edge. Or perhaps, you will be drawn to this type of film — you saw “John Wick,” which was embraced by critics and audiences as being sublimely trashy with an over-the-top body count.
Regarding “Atomic Blonde,” add a dash of “Jason Bourne” to the recipe, meaning fight, kill, rinse and repeat, all with a soundtrack of Goth rock and '80s heavy metal.
Now taken alone, Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is an interesting character, and it’s hard to see much else when she’s on the screen. She has presence. The film opens with her submerged in a bathtub of ice cubes. The shot is from the back. As she rises, ever so slowly, the frame reveals a back covered with welts and bruises. She reaches over and lifts a glass of Stoli on the rocks and swallows quickly. She then lights a cigarette and inhales deeply and exhales slowly.
Cut to a claustrophobic room of glass and chrome, where Lorraine is being debriefed by Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), Berlin CIA Bureau Chief, plus two British MI6 supervisors. Each has questions regarding the Stasi assignment that went very wrong. It’s a train wreck, or so we are led to believe. What follows is a long flashback as Lorraine explains to the men the particulars from the moment that she arrived in Berlin and the game began.
Whether you enjoy films of this type is an open question and depends a great deal on your relationship to movies as a form of ubiquitous entertainment. If you are a fan and your choices fall on a wide spectrum, then you will find a 007-type female packing heat and a lethal resume in the martial arts more than intriguing if not riveting. If, however, violence, filmed in wide shots and close ups, is off-putting in the extreme, then it's best to skip “Atomic Blonde.”