The career of Charlize Theron has been on an interesting trajectory. I first interviewed the South African beauty for The Cider House Rules (1999) not knowing four years later she would give one of the greatest performances in film history in Monster (2003) which earned her universal praise and the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was astounding as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, gaining forty pounds but more, finding the fury in her eyes that matched that of the killer. In the years to follow she has followed a strange path, earning a second nomination for Best Actress in North Country (2005) as a blue-collar factory worker fighting against sexual harassment in her world. She was very good opposite Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah (2007), but lately has been flexing her muscles in action films such as the Fast and Furious franchise (who can explain that?), and she was outstanding in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), who saw that coming, no (?), and was said to be very close to a third Oscar nomination.
She was the very evil Queen in The Huntsman (2012), but until this new picture has not really been challenged. Not even her then lover and director Sean Penn could bring anything out of her in the dreadful The Last Face (2016), a horrible film they made with Javier Bardem. Let’s be clear, that film failed because of everyone, not just Theron, but the relationship between she and Penn did not survive the failure of the picture. It astounds me that so much talent could yield such garbage. I believed she deserved another nomination for Best Actress for her work in Young Adult (2011) but the Academy did not agree, or likely even see the film.
With ‘Atomic Blonde’, she does something unique in portraying a kick ass action hero with brains, with depth to her character with something more than we are used to seeing even with James Bond! She brings to her a humanity, tough as nails for sure, but she can be hurt, emotionally and physically, and is not afraid to show that. It is not the kind of performance we expect in an action film, but it is precisely what the film needs, as she not only anchors the movie, but leaves us wanting more from her.
Her character sort of unleashes the kind of hell we expect a guy to bring us, killing enemies with the stiletto heel she wears, beating people senseless with her bare hands, just an absolute killing machine, Liam Neeson in Taken only as a woman.
Set in 1989, just a few days before the Wall is brought down, the film explores what takes place when several high-placed spies are murdered. Brought in to find out what is happening and to fix it is Lorraine (Theron), literally a killer in stilletos. Her bosses, if such a killer can have such a thing, are played drolly by the ever remarkable John Goodman and Toby Jones.