Femme fatales are never going to go out of style. Blonde and sexy shady ladies have been a hot item ever since 1930s Hitchcock and over the years they have developed along with their genres: thrillers and action movies splintering into different subgroups to create ladies of all kinds of bad-arsery. But the hottest thing right now is the cool and calculating lady spy-assassin. And with that image in mind, we turn our attention to Charlize Theron and Atomic Blonde.
Set during the Cold War, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film tells the story of MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) who is sent to Berlin to recover a missing list of agent identities following the death of a fellow agent. With the questionable help of fellow agent Percival (James McAvoy), Broughton discovers there is more going on than mere recovery of a lost list: there’s a double agent threatening everything.
For the most part, this is a clever and stylish Cold War spy thriller filmed with taste and a great understanding of the genre. All of the misdirection and subterfuge is done perfectly with red herrings swimming about flawlessly and the twist coming as a delightful and exciting shock. However, the last five minutes renders all that brilliance void. It seems that the writers got so hopped up on the twists and turns of the genre and decided to really bash us over the head with the spy-twist mallet. Not only could the film have finished three scenes before it finally did, the twists of the last few minutes completely made half of everything that happened in the movie pointless and highlighted some lazy writing that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. So, at the end of it you’re left feeling completely confused.
On a more positive note, Theron is a classic femme fatale. She’s cold, calculating, and practically emotionless, only becoming really animated when she’s kicking some serious arse. Half of the amusement is trying to read her face and get clues as to what’s going on from her actions, but she hides everything so well. The other major upside to this film is its dirty and punk-rock 1980s aesthetic with grunge, neon, and spray-paint featuring prominently in the set design and location captions. And then we have the fantastic soundtrack! Like a Tarantino movie or Guardians of the Galaxy, the soundtrack has a strong working role and is not just there to provide noise. A mixture of 80s synth-pop, grunge, and metal, it accompanies the film perfectly, creating ambience, drama, and sometimes comedy.
For the most part, Atomic Blonde is a really good movie, and it’s awful that the last few minutes work to undo all that goodness. But sadly, the film is made memorable for the confused and unsatisfied feeling you’re left with at the end.