Atomic Blonde

Published on August 2nd, 2017

Atomic Blonde

Directed by David Leitch

Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy and John Goodman

Reviewed by Julian Lehnert

Rating: ★★★½☆

If Atomic Blonde could speak, it would probably try to invoke the late John F. Kennedy and say “Ich bin ein Berliner”, only to stumble over its words. Because while it may look very much like a German Cold War spy-drama, it is still unmistakably American at heart. David Leitch’s exercise in backstabbing and double-crossing stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a British spy sent to Berlin during the last days of the Berlin Wall who must retrieve an important file before it falls in the wrong hands.

How Broughton went about this is explained through a debriefing several days after her mission. While this is a solid frame which nicely ties the story together, it tells us right away that she made it out alive which somewhat destroys the tension – the following fight scenes and ensuing carnage will naturally always see her survive to tell the tale. This is not enough to sour the experience altogether however, as the action is still gripping and visually appealing. Leitch’s experience with action movies shines through in Atomic Blonde, as Broughton dispatches German police and Russian agents with John Wick-like aplomb in beautifully choreographed scenes, some of which were notably done in one continuous shot.

Visually, Atomic Blonde passes with flying colours – it faithfully recreates late-80’s Berlin with its vivd fashion in the West and derelict architecture in the East. The Berlin Wall features heavily in the film and would definitely invoke memories of the past in those who have witnessed its rise and fall. These scenes (and the rest of the movie!) are set to a memorable soundtrack featuring popular bands of the time (New OrderDepeche Mode) as well as iconic German artists, but it must be said that the German songs should have been picked over their English adaptions, as songs such as 99 Red Balloons pale in comparison to the original.

This is where the first two sentences begin to make sense; it may look German but it is still very much a recreation. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the actors themselves as they frequently manage to destroy the atmosphere with poor German accents. This could be forgiven for the spies who after all were not originally German, however even the characters who were supposedly from Berlin ended up sounding like tourists reading from a phrasebook. Perhaps I am a little overly picky as a native German, but I think that if one is making a movie set in a certain time period in a certain country one should make an effort to recreate that period appropriately, and while it looks like Berlin it simply does not sound like it.

For those simply wishing for a stylish and entertaining two-hour movie experience, Atomic Blonde deserves a recommendation. It did what it set out to do – entertain. The audience is left guessing until the very end who is good and who is evil, and as a spy movie this is commendable. German linguists should however be wary.