Can spies and morality go together?

Can spies and morality go together?

Review: Atomic Blonde

(MA15) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the key events that led to the end of the Cold War and of the USSR. It was a celebration for most of the world and a focal point for the success of diplomacy between America and Russia. Even though it marked the end of some of the key divisions between the super powers, it started a completely new series challenges for Europe and the world. This historical event also continues to open the door to a multitude of storylines and films.

Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) has been sent into this historical powder keg to retrieve a lost spy list for the MI6 and to uncover the identity of a dual agent with the code name of Satchel. In the process of performing her duties, she discovers that there is more to this espionage battle than she is led to believe from her superiors. She is partnered with English agent David Percival (James McAvoy) who helps her navigate through the political labyrinth. With his connections throughout Berlin, his goal seems to be to help Lorraine to find her target and the man who was behind the leaked piece of microfilm. As she determines if she can trust this fellow agent, Agent Broughton must discover the identity of the woman that has been following her since her arrival behind the Iron Curtain.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, the attempt to deliver a new female action hero is to be applauded. In the world of Bond and Bourne, the lead female protagonist in the world of spies has not been seen of much since Angelina Jolie’s Salt or Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Coming off the success of her run in the world of strong lead character in Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron takes on this role with strength and tenacity. She proves to be a tough, stylish and sensual force throughout this action-packed, political drama. Proving that the strong female lead has a place in the world of espionage and should open the door to future roles for many actresses.

Even though there will be inevitable comparisons to James Bond and Jason Bourne, the hyper-violent stylings of director David Leitch (John Wick) gives this a very different feel than other spy films. Amongst the well-choreographed action sequences, the director manages to find a stellar supporting cast in James McAvoy, John Goodman and Toby Jones. They help to drive the story forward at the breakneck speeds that are becoming a regular part of this genre. Subtlety and class are no longer held as markers for these films, but merely beautiful shots of the central player and minimal dialogue connect the action sequences as means of storytelling. The dark background of East Berlin does provide a stark contrast for Theron’s bleached blonde locks and provides the necessary look and feel of its graphic novel roots. All of this being said, there is something that just does not sit right with Atomic Blonde.

Putting aside the lesbian affair between the lead character and the French spy, Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), the whole film lacks a moral core. This might seem like an oxymoronic statement for a spy film, but something that the majority of the other films mentioned is that they do contain a morality even though they are surrounded with violence and deception. Sitting through this film brought forward an uneasiness and discomfort that was initially difficult to identify. Then after much rumination and evaluation, it came down to the lack of any core values to believe in with this character. Initially, the uneasiness was found in a woman being brutalized, but there was more than a chivalrous unease that remained. Despite the beauty of her wardrobe and the justice she represents, in the end there is very little to like about her or the film. Her moral centre seems to be non-existent and leaves little to like about her character. She is beautiful and strong, but does not contain the integrity that makes most spies winsome. Like all of the make up that she must apply to cover her wounds for the interview from her superiors, Atomic Blonde tries to provide a beautiful cover to an ugly and unappealing premise.


Looking Deeper

Morality: conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.

In the world of spies, can morality exist? With only the cinematic world to consider, the question has to be answered with a strong maybe. Compromise has to play a factor in this world of deception and manipulation, but at the core of this work, there has to be a moral centre to drive people to continue the work.

The challenge is to know where to find this integral drive for justice or loyalty. Can it be merely found in the patriotic, familial or monetary?

Most of us will never directly experience the effects of this level of morality, but we still have to determine right and wrong for ourselves. We can look to mankind for examples, but inevitably, people do fail the true test for a moral code eventually. There was only one person in history who set the standard for morality and proved that no one else could completely hold to this standard. This may sound like a hopeless statement, but Jesus did not leave humanity without a solution to this morality juxtaposition.

Are you intrigued? Here is a link to a letter written by Paul called Romans, it opens up things on the subject of morality. It is a short read, but allows for consideration for where it bases your morality. Romans


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top