Atomic Blond, staring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, and John Goodman, had its world premiere at this year’s SXSW in Austin Texas. The film opens with news footage of President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear down this wall” speech. This is followed by a title which announces that “This is not that story.”
However, the story does take place in Berlin in that period and is a spy film in the tradition of the James Bond/Cold War genre. The film, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, goes way beyond any James Bond film in the intensity of the violence and the kinkiness involved.
Theron plays a deadly MI6 agent who must connect with the station chief played by McAvoy to retrieve a list which could compromise all of the West’s agents. Beyond the action, it is also a mystery which will keep you guessing until the film’s final moments. Theron’s character is what screenwriters call an “unchanging hero”, like James Bond or the Lone Ranger.
The film incorporates music from the period, cleverly tying it into the visuals. There is also a musical Casablanca reference which got giggles from the audience.
After the screening, Director David Leitch, and stars Charlize Theron, and James McAvoy came on stage at Austin’s Paramount Theatre for a question and answer session.
Theron led off with a complement to Leitch. “We thank you,” she said, “for taking the action hero to another level.”
Leitch has been building up to this with experience as an actor, writer, producer, and stunt coordinator. He made his directorial debut in 2014 on John Wick, and begins production on DEADPOOL 2 in the summer.
Leitch was happy with Theron as well. “You have no idea how hard she works,” he said. “Thank god we had someone like her on the project.”
A lot of her work involved learning the martial arts and general fighting techniques used by her character. Theron said, “As we prepared, I thought ‘This is never gonna work; I look like big bird.’
“For the first two weeks, we just did fighting stances. Then they told me I was actually going to throw big dudes around. I had eight amazing fight trainers who made me puke everyday. The fun part was that Keanu Reeves was also there, training for John Wick, so we got to spar together.”
Theron was happy with the film. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” she said, “but, tonight was really special for me.”
A questioner from the audience asked if he had really seen Theron’s head bang into a wall.
Leitch answered, “Yes, that was her face.”
Theron added, “I lost two teeth. I had surgery. I’m dealing with it.”
Another question from the audience asked if the songs “Father Figure” and “Under Pressure” were added as tributes to George Michael and David Bowie. Leitch explained that the songs were in the film before the passing of these two entertainers. “They were there,” he said, “because they were iconic for the era.”
McAvoy, who played the somewhat twisted rogue agent Percival, had done his homework. “It’s such a twisty, turny movie. My character was somewhat typical for the era,” he explained. “During this period, spy agencies liked hiring operatives who would burn out or die from syphilis or drugs. That way, they were expendable and not a problem going forward. So, it made sense to make him an alcoholic, drug addicted weirdo.”
“Right,” Leitch chimed in. “That’s why I picked you for the role.”