Aside from thrilling fights, amazing recoveries, revealing clothes and somewhat unbeatable protagonists and occasional propaganda clichés, spy thrillers are always big hits on the silver screen simply because emotions and contradictions of everyday reality, good and evil, love and hatred, life and death, are plainly and painfully on display to an audience who often than not longs deep down for something super natural. This is why we are still watching James Bond after more than half a century. This is also why a recent release, Atomic Blonde, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, has the potential to be of parallel to Dr No.
A low budget film directed by former stuntman David Leitch, Atomic Blonde, with its melancholic soundtracks of the 1980s, screens a “deceiving the deceiver” espionage underground in the two split Berlins days before the fall of the Wall. If the gender of Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is not a sky-breaking thunderball in the spying world, in fiction or reality, and a badass, chivalrous and self-indulgent bi-sexual lady is no more a surprise, her deep-hidden dedication and loyalty to her country, ideal and mission, invisible to the circumstances she has been embedded in and tough to detect in the progress of the plot, are something worth watching in our materialised world.
It only becomes a blurry mirage towards the end that Lorraine Broughton, through whose debriefing narrative the story is told in flashbacks, is the Satchel, someone long believed by the MI6 to be one of their own working as a double agent for the Soviets. The British incompetency enabled Lorraine, planted by the CIA as a triple agent inside the MI6 to provide false information to the KGB, be tasked by London to retrieve the List, codes hidden in a Swiss watch that could reveal the identity of all clandestine eyes and ears on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Knowing that every agent, friends and foes, deceives one another to win an edge in the live-and-let-die spying game, Lorraine chooses not to ignore her duty and allegiance to get Americans the List, not to compromise the British and never to let the Soviets gain an inch, at the great cost of her safety. Although she implanted the voice of David Percival (James McAvoy), Berlin station chief of the MI6 who “has gone native” and works as a double agent for the KGB, into her own recordings of KGB henchman Bremovych (Roland Moller) to get herself out of the Satchel imposture, she does possess evidence of Percival’s treason of meeting Bremovych to frame her murder. Under Percival’s intention of manipulating both sides to maintain a dominating position in his semi-independent espionage empire of Berlin at the compromise of Her Majesty’s government and the free world, Lorraine dodges away plots of her planned death after a prolonged staircase fight and an underwater escape, a type of hand-to-hand combat seldom seen even in the Bond films.
When Percival acquires the List by killing rouge Russian operative Bakhtin (Johannes Haukur Johannesson) and somehow identifies Lorraine as the Satchel, his choice is to turn her to Bremovych to “keep the balance”, feeding the KBG with someone who has been supplying them false intelligence and satisfying the MI6 with uncovering the Satchel, whilst killing Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), a turned East German Stasi officer who brought the List to surface in the first place in exchange for his asylum in the west, to cover his stealing of the List. Faced with life and death in escorting Spyglass crossing the Wall, Lorraine’s loyalty and dedication to who she is and what she does is once again in triumph, even under the betrayal of fellow allies and the danger that the List, memorised entirely by Spyglass, could well expose her Satchel identity.
Berlin Wall came down as Lorraine kills Percival, and later Bremovych and breaks away from her MI6 embedment, certain that in ripping off the Iron Curtain she has her little contribution, even at the cost of putting the burden on an allied country, in freeing billions from Communism.
Atonic Blonde tells female power, unwavering allegiance and peace and dedication amidst cold blood, deception and lust. If Charlize Theron doesn’t turn out to become the Sean Connery of our time, it could only be one reason: the studio fails to produce a sequel.
- Hongyu Wang is a Hong Kong-based trader and author of Grameen in Kosovo: a post-war humanitarian manoeuvre. His articles have appeared in A-Desiflava Magazine, Sunday Examiner and Harbour Times and online on Commentators, CitizenNews, Local Press, In Media, Pen Toy, VJ Media, The News Lens, Jumpstart Magazine, EJ Insight and China Current.
- Published on 18 August 2017.