A movie with a female spy who happens to be British tends to get the inevitable James Bond comparisons. But director David Leitch (John Wick) gives us something in a totally different class. Yes this is about a British spy who happens to be stylish, but never in any Bond flick has the action been so brutal or the style so… 80’s.
Told via flashback, we’re told that this is set in 1989 at the end of the Cold War. Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an Mi6 agent sent to Berlin to retrieve the body of another British spy and catch his killer while also finishing his mission. To do this she has to navigate a city infested with Russian spies, another British agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), and a rookie French agent (Sofia Boutella). We see the story unfold through Broughton’s debriefing in a dark room in front of her British superiors and one CIA representative (John Goodman).
All of the performances were good, but Theron really carries this film. She plays the perfect mix of cold and effective with a hint of sensitivity. As the plot unfolds, you realize she is basically playing two people, as are all the spies in this movie. We have her sharp, seductive and lethal spy mode and the humanity she lets out in flashes when she interacts with Boutella’s French spy or the asset she tries to protect in her mission. She does arguably her hardest work in the fight scenes, which are the crowning glory of this flick.
These fights are savage struggles for survival. Theron did her own stunts for all of these which makes them all the more impressive. Her punches are accented with grunts and yells, and she really, sometimes literally, throws herself into these battles. But these fights aren’t just showy action pieces where no one takes any real damage. You’ll see her and her opponent wiping bloody noses and struggling to stay conscious long enough to kill each other. As violent as these fights are though they do have some humor to them. The last major fight scene in an apartment building that bloodily winds through a staircase and then into an apartment manages to be funny, brutal and tense all at once. If you happen to be squeamish though, you might get icked out in a couple of scenes but it’s never overwhelmingly gory. Even if you’re not squeamish, you’ll probably find yourself wincing at some of the hits, that’s how tactile they are.
James McAvoy is another treat to watch. You can tell he really enjoys playing the hard drinking, drugged out, feral spy who’s blended in a little too much with the locals. As Percival he gives just enough of a hint of his underlying real personality to cast reasonable suspicion on his motives while never coming across as an obvious villain.
But what’s an 80’s movie without 80’s music? If you’re a fan of 80’s music this flick has you covered. We get a lot of the major hits from George Michaels to Simple Minds. You’ll find yourself bobbing along with the tunes which sometimes mirror the action on screen to darkly funny effect. Like this summer’s Baby Driver, the music is as much a character in the movie as anything else. The visuals are also pretty slick, including our main character. Broughton’s outfits range from 80’s punk to 80’s runway in some mixture of black, grey, or white. She also loves her high heels which happen to be highly effective weapons in her hands.
The strength of personality that McAvoy and Theron project paired with the brutal fights and killer soundtrack make this an overall enjoyable flick. The plot works well enough but gets a little fuzzy to follow as the movie stretches on. However, there’s enough tension and misdirection to keep you interested right until the literal last minute of the movie.