Note not a "hot mess" though there's an argument that label applies, too. Charlize Theron's lead in the screen adaptation of The Coldest City
is somewhat scrambled and appears to suffer in a couple places from poor editing choices, but that's not what I mean. I mean, first, that Theron's Lorraine Broughton is hot on screen. Theron mastered more of the action and fight moves than the directors initially expected, so several of the fight sequences were improved and put together more tightly to show what she could do. She's now my #3 choice for next Bond. (*) Also, her interactions with Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) are hot. 4/5 stars if you like spy thrillers and good action flicks (of which there are far too few headed by women).
The film is also messy in a way you don't often see in action films. Broughton fights guys who are bigger than she is, and they hurt her. You get to see blood, not in the the gouts-of-fake-fluid sense, but in the sense that being in a real fight messes you up. You bleed, get cut up and bruised, and it stays with you. Broughton takes hits and gives better than she gets and you see all of it. It's like someone wiped all the "clean" off a Bond flick. Gritty realism has been a thing in Hollywood films lately, but mostly that comes across as oppressive darkness and gloom. Atomic Blonde is not a happy film and few people in it end up happy at the end, but it's not oppressively gloomy and I definitely want to see more. Making this into a Theron-led franchise would be a happy thing in my world.
I mentioned Boutella earlier and she turns in a good performance here as a possible naif, someone who may be in over her head. Broughton's foil in this caper, though, is David Percival (James McAvoy), an agent who has most definitely "gone native" in communist East Berlin in the months before the wall comes down. Nominally, Broughton and Percival are on the same side, supposed to work together to extract "Spyglass" a duplicitous Stasi agent who has managed to assemble a list of operatives. Spyglass will exchange this list for safe passage for himself and his family to the West. Of course, things go wrong. MI-6 sends Broughton in to sort the mess out and get that list, setting up the film's primary conflict.
The intertwined secondary conflict revolves around a long-known double agent, identified only as Satchel. This person has been selling Western secrets to the Soviets for years and Broughton is also given the job of discovering and eliminating this threat. In fact, Satchel's identity may even be on this List that Spyglass has assembled. The movie presents us with multiple plausible characters who could be Satchel and then... well, you should see it if you like this kind of thing.
McAvoy's performance is deliberately scene-chewing. He's loud, brash, doesn't care, drinks too much, screws around, and generally doesn't seem competent. Except he is, leaving us to think the whole brash thing is a front. In counterpoint, Theron's performance is restrained fury - she's cold and calculating and tough as nails. You know what she's capable of, and it's just waiting to see how and when she's going to cut loose. Both actors are excellent solo and opposite each other.
The other really good part about this film is the soundtrack. It's set in the weeks of May and June 1990, right before the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The film's sound includes a number of classic tunes from that era, including "Cat People" (often called "Putting out Fire") by Bowie, "Major Tom", "Fight the Power", and "99 Luftballons". Baby Driver
was widely talked up as a movie that integrated music with its visuals and I think Atomic Blonde
does an even better job of that. The music sets scenes, appears almost as a character in the film, and the way it's integrated with the action, the dialog, and the effects ought to win the sound designer an Oscar.( Spoilers and detailed discussion you might want to wait to read )
(*) behind Kate Beckinsale and Idris Elba