Atomic Blonde

 

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It's the Cold War, but not as cold as the central performance of Charlize Theron.

 

Atomic Blonde

Peroxide punch: Charlize Theron in action 

  

OK, we get it. Charlize Theron is amazing. She can pull off a standard English accent and hold her own against the best stunt actors in the business. And, with a catalogue of films stretching back 22 years, she still looks sensational in her birthday suit. Here, she struts around Berlin in 1989 as if it were her own private catwalk, while whipping on the mantle of this year’s Janice Bourne. And as the producer of this adaptation of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, she presumably had some say in how often she slipped off her glad rags. Even so, she’s hemmed into a one-note performance in what looks like a slick, extended commercial promoting the seamier attractions of Cold War Berlin. With the world teetering on the brink of a new political snowball fight, one might have hoped for something more pertinent than this backward flip to Harry Palmer and early John le Carré.

 

Charlize plays Lorraine Broughton, a top agent for M16 who is sent to Berlin prior to the imminent dismantlement of the Wall. Her mission is to recover some vital microfilm containing the names of every active field agent in the Soviet Union – and to locate the killer of a fellow agent. It’s a labyrinthine task, particularly as Soviet, Stasi, British, French and CIA contacts are never who they say they are…

 

While at times David Leitch attempts to inject some directorial distinction into this gallimaufry, he needs to spend more time studying the oeuvre of Danny Boyle. For Leitch, it’s all about the stunts and if one enjoys an endless barrage of hand-to-hand combat accompanied by pistol-shot sound effects, then this may suffice. But it’s really a vanity project for Charlize, who looks stunning throughout, defying her forty-two years on the planet. But her Lorraine Broughton is not real, any more than the foul language that spills from her lips sounds spontaneous. James McAvoy is more fun as her Berlin counterpart, like a sort of gun-wielding Mark Renton. But what John Goodman, as a CIA suit, saw in his part is a mystery. At least Eddie Marsan, as a Stasi traitor, gets to flex a German accent and shares the film’s best scene with Charlize. For a moment, a flicker of humanity emerges beneath Lorraine’s mask, before she embarks on a bone-breaking marathon of fisticuffs. And, boy, can she kick ass. Fans of Charlize Theron will not be disappointed: they will get more than they bargained for, including a totally gratuitous lesbian sequence involving Sofia Boutella as another ambiguous spook. But the film itself is an over-stylised, convoluted headache. Oh, for the days when we could bask in a Hitchcockian thriller with just the one twist.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgård, James Faulkner.

 

Dir David Leitch, Pro Charlize Theron, Beth Kono, A.J. Dix, Kelly McCormick, Eric Gitter and Peter Schwerin, Screenplay Kurt Johnstad, Ph Jonathan Sela, Pro Des David Scheunemann, Ed Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, Music Tyler Bates, Costumes Cindy Evans.

 

Denver and Delilah Productions/Closed on Mondays Entertainment/87Eleven-Universal Pictures.

115 mins. USA/Germany/Sweden. 2017. Rel: 9 August 2017. Cert. 15.