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European films

Film review: Atomic Blonde – Charlize Theron is killing it in hyperviolent spy thriller

For all Theron’s daring in her role as a British secret agent in 1989 Berlin, and despite some impressive scenes of orchestrated carnage, film is more smug than stylish

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 1:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 11:37am

2.5/5 stars

Following the success of Wonder Woman, Lucy and Rogue One , Hollywood finally seems willing to support action movies fronted by female stars. Atomic Blonde casts Charlize Theron – who proved her mettle in the genre in Mad Max: Fury Road – as a British spy, sent to Berlin just days before the Wall comes down, whose search for a stolen list of espionage agents leads her into a cold-war web of deception and betrayal.

Adapted from Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde has long been a passion project for the South African Oscar winner, and there’s no doubting Theron’s commitment to the material. Its producer as well as star, Theron underwent months of intensive physical training to portray Lorraine Broughton, an icy bisexual killing machine working for MI6.

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Under the direction of David Leitch, one half of the team behind Keanu Reeves action epic John Wick , Theron proves brutally efficient, dispatching an endless stream of KGB goons in a series of elaborately choreographed set pieces. In the film’s centrepiece, Broughton single-handedly fights her way from inside an elevator, down a stairwell and into a car, all captured in an unbroken five-minute tracking shot.

The robust supporting cast, which includes James McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman, vie for attention as best they can, but Atomic Blonde is Theron’s show from start to finish. It’s a daring performance that frequently leaves her bloody, bruised or naked. In one scene she even enjoys a passionate fling with Sofia Boutella’s sultry French spy.

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Leitch fawns over Berlin’s eclectic architecture (actually Budapest) and Theron’s bottomless wardrobe of inappropriate combat attire, while leaning heavily on a pounding soundtrack of 1980s pop classics, but when the dust settles, Atomic Blonde has little else to offer. Rather than exude a stylish swagger, the film reeks of a smug self-satisfaction that undermines Theron’s considerable efforts and the genuinely impressive moments of orchestrated carnage.

Atomic Blonde opens on July 27

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