US, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Charlize Theron, James Mc Avoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Till Schweiger, Sofia Boutella, Barbara Sukova, James Faulkner,
Directed by David Leitch.
Cold War espionage. The ending of the Cold War. Coming down of the Berlin Wall… It sounds as if we are in John Le Carre territory. But, John Le Carre it ain’!. This is a film based on a graphic novel rather than a novel written graphically. The central characters are of the superhero, super-heroine, villain variety, sharply drawn, tough language, and fighting capacity in the kick-ass (or kick-front) school of combat.
Not that the situation doesn’t remind us of a Le Carre novel. It is 1989, Berlin. There are demonstrations in the East, protests, clambering on to the wall, support from the West. November – and by the end of the month the wall was down.
There is a particular crisis because a former Stasi official (Eddie Marsan) is about to defect, has a complete list of agents and counter-agents which all the powers are eager to get their hands on. The other valuable thing is that the agent has memorised the list completely.
In London, the espionage chiefs along with a CIA representative fear the list becoming available, endangering a great number of agents. They summon one of their best agents, Lorraine Broughton. She is played by Charlize Theron. And, with her bleached hair, she is the Atomic Blonde. Blondes can also be blonde bombshells and an atomic blonde bombshell is explosive. After her being Furiousa in Mad Max Fury Road, and after being the arch-villain in The Fate of the Furious, Charlize Theron is at home with tough roles, especially when they ensure that she is a star with graphic novel glamour, poise and sensibilities.
In Berlin she is to rendezvous with the local area chief, David Perceval, played with intensity by James Mc Avoy, also a graphic novel type, infiltrating in East Berlin, skinhead look, rough and ready, but an exceedingly shrewd operator.
Berlin isn’t exactly the city that one would have liked to have visited in November 1989. And this, especially so, if one knew just how many agents and double agents were prowling the streets, ready with weapons, brutal Russians, seductive French, self-confident Americans, and so many Germans themselves.
Actually, the film is shown in flashback, and seeing Lorraine at the end of her mission in Berlin looking very much the worse for wear, immersing herself in a bath of ice cubes, summoned to report to the British authorities for a debriefing, all taped. The preceding action is told in the flashbacks.
Needless to say, there are traitors, double agents, murders in the street, escape in joining the protesters (who all raise umbrellas at crucial moment to stop the snipers shooting). And, of course, there are suspicions all round. What about David Perceval? What about Lorraine herself? What about the authorities in London (James Faulkner and Toby Jones)? What about the CIA emissary (John Goodman)? What about the young contact in the east? What about the watchmaker in the West? And, after all that, it gets even more complicated in the last 10 minutes! And, of course, a twist.
The film was made in Budapest but has enough scenes of Berlin itself that tourists would recognise and be comfortable with. However, depending on one’s interest, whether one remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall or younger audiences wanting to know more about it, or whether one just wants action and plenty of kick-ass with Charlize Theron showing she is as good as any male counterpart, the film will be an entertaining, violent, sometimes kinky, immersion in the world of doubledealing espionage.
1. A popular action film? The blend of historical realism? The basis in the graphic novel, the characters, action? The tone?
2. The 1980s, Germany, East and West, Berlin divided? The late 1980s, unrest in East Germany, in East Berlin, the presence for so long of the Wall? Espionage, agents, the variety of governments and their spies?
3. The cast, their style? The leads as characters from Graphic Novels? The series’ supporting cast? The musical score? The songs of the time?
4. Location photography, in Berlin, the landmarks, the churches in West Berlin? Alexanderplatz? The wall at the Brandenburg Gate? The streets of East Berlin? The contrast with the West? Filming in Budadpest?
5. The action sequences, the stunt work?
6. The situation, the times, Lorraine arriving in London, her experience in Berlin, bruised, the ice cube bath, the summons to the authorities, C, the interrogator, the American presence, recording the debriefing? Her offhand attitude? A top agent, her story, reactions, her under-breath insult of the American – and the later irony of her having performed this?
7. The flashbacks, the situation, the fall of the wall, the role of the Stasi, the end of the period, Spyglass, his wanting to defect, the list, the film, all the names in his memory, his fears, wanting his family to escape? The Russian, the driver, obtaining the film and killing the man, the body in the river? The Russian wanting to sell to the highest bidder, his approach to the watchmaker?
8. David Perceval, the head of the bureau in Berlin, his cover, with the Russians, going to East Berlin, his apartment, his equipment, his skinhead disguise?
9. Lorraine, going to Berlin, the KGB making the immediate connection, the questions, the pursuit, realising the truth, the vicious fighting, the crash and the car? David, his late arrival, with her shoe? The clashes, the timing and her being able to ambush people? His apartment? Going to the hotel? Going to the East, special contact, the watchmaker? The issue of the undercover agent, playing both sides? Satchel?
10. David, with the punks in the East, their arrest, the KGB officer and his brutal interrogation and bashing? David getting out of the East, in the West, using tunnels, his various covers?
11. Lorraine, the hotel, the visit of the American interrogator, the tensions? The plan to take Spyglass out of East Berlin and to the UK?
12. The French spy, following Lorraine, Lorraine picking her? Going to the bar, the approach? Going to the next bar, the kiss, the sexual attraction, the French spy saying she was naive, the sexual encounter? The clash with David, her death? Lorraine and her motivations for revenge with the death of the girl?
13. The watchmaker, giving the codes, the KGB man going to him for selling the information? His later appearance at the end as an ally of Lorraine?
14. The contact in East Germany, the cover, Lorraine going in for the day, her documents?
15. Spyglass, the plan to get him out, his family, his memory? The protests, David shooting him in the street? The cover of the umbrellas and snipers unable to shoot?
16. Going into the house, the thugs, the shops, the fights, Lorraine and her fighting abilities? Spyglass being shot? Getting into the car, his death, Lorraine getting him out, the contact and getting back into the West?
17. Confronting David, his accusing her of being Satchel, her shooting him, the motivation of the death of the French spy?
18. The return to the briefing, the characters of the interrogators, C, the British, the American?
19. Lorraine going to France, with the KGB, the contacts, as a brunette, the fashionable setting, the turning on the KGB, her skill and shooting everybody?
20. The final escape, the American connection, and her being an American double agent?