The Coldest City is the name of the graphic novel that is the source material for Atomic Blonde and you would be remisced to feeling the chill after leaving the theater. Atomic Blonde is a Cold War era thriller that’s more cold than thriller, despite the deliciousness of it’s two lead performances from Charlize Theron and James McAvoy.
The story kicks off when we see James Gasciogne get murdered by a KGB agent in order to take over a mysterious list with the names of all CIA and MI6 opratives. Flashing forward, Loraine Broughton, bruised and battered from her time in Berlin comes into the office to debrief about what happened in the pursuit of the list and the struggles her and David Percival (James McAvoy) encounter. Mixing in timelines, plot twists, and more secret agents than you can shake a stick at, Atomic Blonde attempts to capitalize on it’s Berlin Wall coming down chaos to spin its wild tale.
What’s perhaps most disappointing is that Atomic Blonde has all of the elements to be a solid film and just routinely employs them in the wrong way. As noted above, the movie moves between timelines: David and Lorraine in the past trying to track down the list and Lorraine being interviewed by MI6 and CIA agents. However, the skill with which it does is middling at best. The narrative, in either timeline, is not aloud to get much purchase due to the movement back and forth. The interrogation lacks tension and the mission has tension but loses it every time the movie makes the switch.
This might have been sustainable in a movie that wasn’t so concerned with its look than its feeling. David Leitch has such a style and a way about his directing and when the movie is humming, it’s a neon lit vision. However, form doesn’t always meet function in this case. The camera work between him and DP Jonathan Sela is so measured in its gaze that its more detached than observational. Atomic Blonde just isn’t interesting enough of a mystery to sustain that kind of distance from an audience and when the movie tries to bring us in, via a single take sequence, it calls more attention to the filmmaking than the story. That’s never a situation you want to be in when actors like Charlize and James are trying to give it their all, but Atomic Blonde doesn’t rise to their abilities, or our desires as an audience.