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Review: Cold War action thriller Atomic Blonde is Tinker, Tailor, Total, Badass

PUBLISHED: 14:22 11 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:22 11 August 2017

Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughtonl in Atomic Blonde. Photo: Focus Features LLC/Jonathan Prime

Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughtonl in Atomic Blonde. Photo: Focus Features LLC/Jonathan Prime

Focus Features LLC/Jonathan Prime

John Leitch’s action-packed spy caper, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart is so knowingly 1980s in that it is all style and no substance and the style becomes numbing.

Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton in the middle of a fight scene in Atomic Blonde. Photo: Focus Features LLC/Jonathan PrimeCharlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton in the middle of a fight scene in Atomic Blonde. Photo: Focus Features LLC/Jonathan Prime

Atomic Blonde (15)

***

Atomic Blonde’s big idea is to retrofit slick contemporary noughties action vacuity onto a tale of Cold War espionage. It’s Tinker, Tailor, Total, Badass, with Charlize Theron as a British agent sent into Berlin during the days before the Wall came down to rescue a list of double agents, all to an 1980s soundtrack. It’s a horible waste of thoroughly good playlist.

I hated this movie, and did so from the very first minute, when Blue Monday started up on the soundtrack. The music never lets up: David Bowie’s Cat People is next, followed by tracks from Depeche Mode, Queen, George Michael, A Flock of Seagulls and the inevitable 99 Luftballoons.

I enjoyed tapping my toes to the songs, but not their use as desperate trinkets of ingratiation. It takes skill to match pop music to movie scenes, and Atomic Blonde is continually tin-eared in its selections; just as it is tin-hearted in its characterisations.

Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton and James McAvoy as David Percival in Atomic Blonde. Photo: Focus Features LLC/Jonathan PrimeCharlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton and James McAvoy as David Percival in Atomic Blonde. Photo: Focus Features LLC/Jonathan Prime

It’s knowingly 80s in that it is all style and no substance and the style becomes numbing. Both Theron and James McAvoy put a bit too much effort into their British accents, so that they both sound a bit too perfect, and thus a bit fake.

Director David Leitch is officially making his debut here, though it is now being put about that actually he was a de-facto co-director of John Wick. The style is similar with lots of audaciously choreographed, and hideously violent, single shot fight scenes.

I love the Wick films yet hated this, partly because the Wick films exist in their own little protective bubble. While Keanu Reeves carries it off with an air of absurd zen detachment, Theron seems almost freakishly committed to her performance.

She does a bit of nudies, takes a lot of beatings, looks pristine in every shot and wants us to know just how much effort she is putting into it. From Aeon Flux to Fury Road, she has consistently taken roles that see her applauded for providing strong female role models.

I appreciate that my hatred for this film is disproportionate to its failing. For a $30 million production it is impressively mounted and some of the action sequences are quite bold.

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