Guns? How pedestrian. Knives? Amateur hour. A fire-engine-red, stiletto-heeled pump? That’s much more in keeping with the killer style of M16 agent Lorraine Broughton, played by a smoking hot Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde.
The fetishized red shoe, in all its sexualized glory, perfectly represents Theron in this super stylized film, opening July 28. Its's a bright weapon that pops against the bleak, late-'80s Berlin landscape just as she does—chic, sexy, fashionable, and as lethal as it is alluring.
Theron kicks major butt in this wild ride of an action flick, based on Anthony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City and helmed by David Leitch (one half of the John Wick directing duo)—and she looks damn good doing it. From scene to scene, Theron is decked out in chic Max Mara, Dior, and Burberry coats, layered on top of John Galliano suits, snug Thierry Mugler dresses, thigh-high YSL boots, and, of course, super cool shades.
When we first meet Broughton, she’s naked and vulnerable, nursing a vodka while soaking in a bathtub filled with ice cubes to sooth her bruised body. After affixing a few bandages and popping a few pills (as David Bowie’s "Cat People" plays in the background), she’s soon in a London interrogation room, getting debriefed about her recent mission.
As we learn that the mission’s goal was to find out what happened to a murdered fellow M16 agent and secure a sensitive missing document—a list of secret agent names—it becomes clear that her superiors (Toby Jones and John Goodman) don’t quite trust her version of what went down. Unfazed, Broughton coolly inhales her cigarette as the men seem unsure how to handle her. It’s all very Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
Through flashbacks, we see Broughton meet her Berlin “partner,” Agent David Percial (James McAvoy), a shady character who moonlights selling whiskey and designer jeans on the black market. She’s not quite sure if he’s a bad, good guy, or a good, bad guy—and neither are we.
But he seems valuable so she puts up with him. For one thing, he has connections to an East German operative who has memorized the list of agent names and tells her about a mysterious double agent named Satchel, who just might be the key.
There are plenty of car chases and fight scenes, double crossing, innuendos and, yes, sex. Broughton meets a novice French spy named Delphine (played by a smoldering Sofia Boutella) at a bar who makes it clear she’s interested in exchanging more than just information. Steamy scenes ensue.
We’ve seen Theron as the tough girl before (remember Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road?), but this time around she’s a virtual killing machine, using whatever is handy as a weapon—a rope, a phone, a cork screw, keys—usually in self defense. In Agent Broughton’s hands, they are all instruments of destruction. She's Wonder Woman meets MacGyver and, swatting off her would-be killers as though they are merely annoying flies. Apparently, when Theron was filming, she got way into the character, clenching her jaw so tight that it resulted in two cracked teeth!
I lost track of the body count.
Bottom line: I am not usually a fan of violent films. But this was highly entertaining—even a bit camp. Theron’s unshakable cool is a pleasure to watch, as is the art direction, characterized by bursts of red (a phone booth, a flag, blood!) against the film’s gray backdrop.
Watch: Charlize Theron's Changing Looks
Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a fun romp down memory lane for anyone of age in the '80s—from Nena’s “99 Lutfballons” and The Clash’s “London Calling” to Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” and A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran”.