Movie Review – Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde features a significant wall. Its not Trump’s Mexican border wall but the Berlin Wall. Directed by David Leitch, the film features Oscar-winner Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 spy dispatched to recover a top-secret list of intelligence agents in 1989 Berlin. James McAvoy plays Broughton’s contact, David Percival, who is constantly shrouded in a cloud of smoke and a flamboyant fur coat. His smugand nonchalant demeanor instantly puts him at odds with the stoic and no-nonsense Lorraine. Viewers are left wondering whether Lorraine is just paranoid or justified in her distrust of Percival, but fortunately his sinister agenda is revealed early on but not to Lorraine.

With the understanding that she can trust no one, Lorraine puts in remarkable effort to locate the list of intelligence agents and assassinate “Satchel,” a double agent who has been tipping off the Soviets for years. While maintaining a tough exterior is an understandable necessity for a secret agent, Lorraine’s one-dimensional personality can get tiresome. Theron delivers all of Lorraine’s lines with the same speed, tone of voice, and hardened facial expression, making her character come across as heartless and robotic at times. Even while lying in bed with her lover, French spy Delphine, Lorraine rarely seems interested. Viewers will of course still cheer her on given that she’s the protagonist, but it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling much sympathy for her troubles.

Atomic Blonde’s pacing and writing are slightly lacking. The first half of the film is slow, with plenty of conversations and fights that lead nowhere, but the second half picks up the pace and delivers more entertainment value. Furthermore, the plot suffers from predictability. It’s a cliché of thriller films that the traitor is the person the protagonist was supposed to trust most. What’s surprising is that Lorraine has her suspicions about Percival, yet she never follows through with an attempt to uncover his secrets. She instead keeps him at arm’s length which is perhaps the most dangerous place for him to be. For someone as sharp and cynical as her, it is disappointing that the audience is forced to wait until the end of the film before she makes a connection between Percival and Satchel. 

Where Theron truly shines is in the film’s fight scenes. Lorraine knows how to use a gun, but she also incapacitates her enemies in a myriad of other ways. She uses a rope as a lasso, keys, and, of course, her high heels. The film’s most intense fight scene lasts probably ten minutes and involves Lorraine taking out several burly men while also keeping an eye on her wounded companion. She takes her share of hits, including a fall down the stairs, but she holds her own and doesn’t require a male savior. Perhaps this is why her character might bother some viewers. Women are supposed to be in touch with their emotions and to be gentle and nurturing. Lorraine doesn’t fit into this narrow box. It might be unsettling to see such a cold, aloof female character, but her fighting skills and independence nevertheless make her an impressive and admirable character.

Lorraine Broughton is the type of character that millennial audiences, particularly female audience members, have been craving. Most people no longer want to see the archetypal damsel-in-distress in movies. With Jason Bourne, James Bond, and a plethora of male superheroes always lighting up the screen, viewers have been wanting to see powerful female leads added to the mix. Lorraine Broughton joins the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Wonder Woman in bringing strong women to the foreground of American cinema.