Atomic Blonde: A New Era for the Spy Film Genre

“These boots are made for walking” so goes the song, “and one day these boots are going to walk all over you”. Judging by the lyrics, Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit could have been written for Atomic Blonde, in which Charlize Theron stylishly walks, runs and kicks ass through the mean, Cold War divided streets of Berlin.

Throughout the film, Theron, as Lorraine Broughton, models any number of killer outfits and footwear. What gives Atomic Blonde its distinctive look, however, is the 80s vibe that is prevalent throughout, from the Graffiti covered Berlin wall to the tonnes of Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

That sense of style is as much part of the pitch of this film as the story. From the start, as Theron’s character walks through London, the camera focusing on her boots as they step, seductively, one in front of the other, the style is on the show, with the film unashamedly milking its use of a female lead for all it’s worth. There are dozens of fight scenes too, with a realistic depiction of the punch drunk antagonists, and executed at full speed in a welcome break from the tyranny of the ubiquitous slow motion shot that has so thoroughly extended its shadow over modern cinema.

Every aspect of her character is exhibited before us, yet the whole run of the film it’s impossible to tell who the real Broughton is, and what is merely an act.

The style, however, does not detract from the story, which is so full of twists and turns that it’s much homage to the spy genre, as it is that same genre’s possible renaissance. As Broughton evades the KGB in the streets of East Berlin, the audience is kept constantly guessing as to who is on which side, with the plot serving up a buffet of marvellously exotic characters, from James McAvoy’s fantastically deviant David Percival to rising star Sofia naïve French sexpot, Delphinne Lasalle. Machiavelli trips off the tongue as seducer turns into seduced and back into seducer with dizzying speed.


Step aside Bond, the spy film genre belongs to more innovative characters now.


Such a story requires a great deal of its cast, but here there are no weak points to the acting. Every character is fully realised by the person playing them, and a few could even by hot tips come the next Oscar season. Special mention though must go to Eddie Marsan, who brings Spyglass, the defecting Stasi officer, to the screen with a particular look of vulnerability that makes you feel for him, even though part of your mind is screaming that this man has spent his career as a tool of repression and violence.

In the end, though this film was always going to succeed or fail based on Theron’s own abilities. As the lead, she is the Atlas who must bear the weight of the film’s mantle, and bear it she does. Magnificently so. Every aspect of her character is exhibited before us, yet the whole run of the film it’s impossible to tell who the real Broughton is, and what is merely an act. Theron takes the inherent ambiguity of the character and weaves it into the narrative so convincingly that the story is able to keep its mystery right until the final frame of the movie.


"Mad Max: Fury Road" Photocall - The 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival
This has to be one of Theron’s best films to date.


What comes is a wonderful payoff for the audience. Every scene, every development, and every line of dialogue draw you into the murky depths of the Cold War world this film so convincingly recreates.

By Gareth Wood

More from Gareth – Death Wish: Revenge Flick or Alt-Right Propoganda?

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