Charlize Theron has taken several roles in recent years that have gone on to be empowering for women, Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road being the latest to stand out. Her character, Lorraine Broughton, in Atomic Blonde sits very convincingly within this category.
Set against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall being torn down, Atomic Blonde is a film that just builds and builds. There is winding intrigue throughout and back-and-forth trust issues between Theron’s character and others we are introduced to, like the slightly aloof British agent who has spent too long on mission (James McAvoy), an attractive French woman (Sofia Boutella) who shows an instant liking towards Agent Broughton, and a suitably butch Russian officer (Roland Møller). The film cleverly omits over-explanation and allows for some surprises for the audience to enjoy as you’re left wondering where everyone’s loyalty lies.
The overall look of the film is cold; there is a near-omnipresent blue colouring to the shots with highlights of neon signs and singular bright lights. Interestingly, this ended up not drawing much attention to Agent Broughton’s platinum blonde hair, instead dulling it for the most part. I assumed her hair would be a striking part of most scenes, as in other film adaptations of heavily stylised graphic novels. In this case, we are made to focus more on what actions she takes rather than how she looks when doing them.
This isn’t to say that Charlize Theron isn’t gorgeous in this film, however, the regularity in which you see Agent Broughton undress normalises her body rather than making her fall into the eye-candy category. It shows the audience how she uses her beauty as a tool on her missions. There are no head-to-toe examining or lingering shots because we aren’t looking at her from the point of view of another character. Often we are watching Agent Broughton as she turns away from whomever she is talking to and we see her face change to reveal her anger or frustration.
I almost expected Atomic Blonde to focus heavily on the 80s and join the bandwagon of the New Retro Wave that has sparked over the last few years. I was pleasantly surprised by how the film’s context was addressed more subtly rather than overt references being thrown around all over the place. Aside from a dramatic use of the song 99 Luftballons by Nena, the soundtrack choices were all fantastic. Most weren’t too over-the-top, and as a fan of 80s pop it was brilliant to witness songs from that period used in the film.
Atomic Blonde is a flashy film that never takes itself too seriously, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. The acting was all very good, though I did wonder why they used Eddie Marsan, an English actor, to play Spyglass, a German character, rather than an use a German actor, but that’s more of a personal gripe and I thought he was pretty good anyway. Atomic Blonde is beautifully shot, highly entertaining, and boasts some very impressive fight choreography, specifically on the stairwell scene. You’ll know when you watch it.
Many thanks to the Gulbenkian for the complimentary tickets
by Jack Wierenga
edited by Jay Fernando