In the era of Donald Trump, and the fallout of all that 2016 has wrought upon us, it seems like a single set of stories, a very tight narrative, dominated the 24-hour news cycle. At first, it had to do with supposed collusion between Russia and the Hillary Clinton campaign, then the focus shifted to the Trump campaign colluding with Russia and Russian hackers at least attempting to jettison our most treasured political cornerstone in America: the election of the highest office in the land, that of the Presidency.

Indeed, the Russia situation is still very murky and taking up much of our focus as a people when we tune into our nightly news. It seems as if some new, fresh hell is happening every single day. Whether it is the head of the FBI being called before Congress after being fired by the President, the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the whole thing, or even the President's own family being called to testify in open session, the whole Russia debacle is the very definition of "palace intrigue" and extremely confusing to follow. It reminds one that the Cold War is really over in name only; indeed, tensions with Russia haven't been higher since the late '80s.

Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron as MI6 Agent Lorraine Broughton.


Enter Charlize Theron's epic spy movie Atomic Blonde, which hit theaters July 28. Continuing the trend of big budget films based on graphic novels, Atomic Blonde is based on "The Coldest City" graphic novel series by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Theron had been working on or otherwise pushing this project for the better part of five years: the time of its premiere in theaters could not have been more perfect if it had been released in the mid-'80s instead.

Despite her name, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), does not have any superpowers; although, one could certainly see where the architects of the story could've gone in that direction considering the base subject of Soviet Russia and its cold war with the United States. I am glad they did not take the usual superhero tact: I usually find it difficult to empathize with superheroes who have superpowers because much science fiction has a tendency to strictly stretch my bounds of cinematic suspension of disbelief, making it more difficult for me to enjoy the film they are in. This is just a general rule for me though: thus, with notable exceptions like 2017's Logan (my profile of the Noir Edition of Logan is coming soon to The 405), it is not always true.

Atomic Blonde

Fight scene from "Atomic Blonde".


That being said, Lorraine Broughton is certainly a badass without any superpowers. Indeed, Agent Lorraine Broughton of Her Majesty's Secret Service is the definition of a lethal femme-fatale, sans the pure amorality: sensuous, sleek, self-sufficient in an extreme environment, and very savage when she needs to be. Yet, the film is not just sleek, highly stylized sexy action although it certainly has that in spades -- as a viewer, one could not ask for better cinematography or fight scene choreography to keep both the tension and entertainment in high gear.

With Agent Broughton being sent into East Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow MI6 agent and safely transport a dossier of double agents back to the west, we learn that nothing and no one can be trusted in the Soviet hell-hole that so much of Europe was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The tight narrative arc has us wondering the end of game of damn near every character. In that regard, Atomic Blonde is a wildly successful exercise in all that spy craft should be in the nature and substance of its exposition in story form: made such by its relentless focus on individual motivation.

Atomic Blonde is like a Tom Clancy tale that is not bogged down by the endless minutiae intrinsic to state craft and "political intrigue". A Tom Clancy take on a tale like this would have been incredibly dense. Atomic Blonde, however, is incredibly lean in the narrative: nothing is there that does not serve the desired expository goals of the film. This is likely due to Atomic Blonde focusing more on the individual motivations of every player in the spy thriller that is. From there, the complexity that under girds most spy and political thrillers will fall into place. There really is no reason to add extraneous detail for detail's sake. This will only bog your narrative down.

Because of the clarity of the film's narrative, notable for existing in a genre marked by too much detail, Atomic Blonde has the further unintended (I think) effect of shining a spotlight on the machinations of the truly leviathan Soviet government and what it did to the individual's psyche in scenes like the faceless throngs at the Berlin discotheques debasing themselves in all manner of frowned upon American music, styles of dress, and narcotics; not to mention the innumerable Stasi officers and KGB spooks pursuing the atomic blonde, all for their own selfish reasons, or for a pathological "love of country". The relentless focus on why the characters do what they do and act the way they act in the communist system is rather profound for a film marketed as an action flick, not a socio-political documentary.

Yet, Atomic Blonde DOES shine a powerful, penetrating spotlight on human nature when it is exposed to too much power and all without even remotely romancing Soviet collectivism as a "peoples' revolution", as so many films before it have.

Communism was and is a penultimate example of man's brutality against man. Atomic Blonde pulls absolutely no punches in examining that, although perhaps unintentionally. It does so amidst a highly entertaining, electrically charged narrative that will keep you guessing at the twists. This narrative is enforced throughout by a mise-en-scene that is beautifully wrought, truly transporting one to 1989 Berlin. The soundtrack does a lot to nail that too, and should make '80's pop fans deliriously happy: listen for classics from Bowie, The Clash, A Flock of Seagulls, New Order, Depeche Mode, and others. Oddly, Blondie's track "Atomic" is not in the film.

All these things are made even stronger by stellar performances from Theron, James McAvoy (who plays Theron's male MI6 counterpart), and John Goodman (the CIA liaison in East Germany). Atomic Blonde is a sleek, sexy, spy game that is at the same time, a profound and unintentional look at the mechanics of statist collectivism behind the Iron Curtain that doesn't romance a single sentence of its most brutal history.