A neon-lit, nicotine-soaked, alcohol fueled galore of gore and nudity, Atomic Blonde isn’t your usual kind of spy thriller. Coming from the stuntman-turned-director, David Leitch, the film features spectacular action, and was almost completely shot in Budapest, featuring the city as Berlin, London and Paris.
More 80’s than the 80’s, “Atomic Blonde” decided the “ride the retrowave”. Which it does effortlessly, in fact it does it so well, that the movie is bordering on visual kitsch, but thanks to its stylish execution, never crosses the line. Oddly enough, it was based on a visually subdued black and white comic book, The Coldest City, by Anthony Johnston. There are some minor deviations from its source material, but the plot remained largely unchanged:
Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) gets summoned to the MI6 headquarters to brief her superiors and a senior CIA agent (played by Toby Jones, James Faulkner and John Goodman, respectively) about her last mission in Berlin. Her goal was to secure a watch, containing a microfilm with the identities of both Western and Eastern agents operating in the city, while trying to uncover a double agent, going by the moniker Satchel.
Her mission was to be aided by the erratic and eccentric chief of the local MI6 station, David Percival (James McAvoy), who is clearly more concerned about his own motives. Further complications arise, when it turns out that former Stasi agent and would-be defector, condemned Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) memorized the list, so it also falls upon Lorraine to protect him from the KGB. In the meantime, she gets entangled in a romantic relationship with Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a French agent tasked with monitoring her progress.
Though some scenes were indeed shot in Berlin – ones including such establishing landmarks as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – the filming there took only about 4-5 days. The rest of the movie, including the Paris and London parts, were done in Budapest.
For example, around the five-minute mark, we can see our hero walking into the MI6 HQ, which in reality is the building housing the Ethnographic Museum. Arriving to Berlin, she walks through Terminal 1 of the Liszt Ferenc International Airport – which is currently unused and the oldest part of the building.
The car chase sequence was done in Berlin, but after Percival picks Lorraine up, they rush through the Aradi Street with their Porsche, while the station head gives her an improvised sightseeing tour.
The apartment buildings found in the film are typical 19th century ones, found all over Budapest. One identifiable one they used is located on the Lónyay Street. A similar looking building with an inner courtyard was also featured in the movie, called Adria Palota (Adria Palace) on the Szabadság Square, which made dozens of appearances in other movies (for example: “Maigret” (2016), “The Rite”, “Blade Runner 2049”, “Black Widow” etc.). Originally built to be the headquarters of a shipping company, this popular neo-baroque location is currently being renovated.
The fictional Central Café in Berlin was “played” by the New York Cafe, situated on the ground floor of the New York Palota (New York Palace). The historical site was featured in many movies over the years and served as an important nexus for Hungarian culture and arts in the early 20th century.
Other “Berlin” locations include the Vörösmarty, Jósika and Szív Streets. The subway scene was shot at one of the stations along the M3 line. You might not to be able to see them as they were presented in the movie though, as they are currently under renovations and the interior design is untouched since 1976 and will be replaced by a new, modern look.
Minor spoilers ahead: there’s a scene where a car falls into a river. This was all done in the diving pool on the Margit-sziget (Margaret Island). The filming took three days (the first three ones in Budapest, in fact), with Charlize Theron doing her own stunts.
The short exterior scene of what was supposed to be Paris was shot around the often-used location of the Hungarian State Opera House.
Regarding the Hungarian cast members: besides the thousands of extras, credited actors included Balázs Lengyel, Lili Gesler, Sara Natasa Szonda. Actor and director Attila Árpa even had a few lines as an East German border patrol guard.
Overall, the movie isn’t a “Jane Wick” flick, as the press initially labeled it or something like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” as David Leitch alluded to. It’s certainly closer to the former, though the plot is a lot more complicated than that of a simple revenge story, don’t expect it to be something like John le Carré would have written. Instead, just enjoy the top-notch cinematography, the excellent soundtrack and the acting performances. Also, it’s commonly said, that the 7-and-a-half-minute long fight scene near the end of the movie is one of the best out there.
And if you happened to like the movie, stay tuned, because there are rumours going around about a possible sequel. Netflix showed interest in it, and so did Leitch and Theron. Is it going to be a prequel? A miniseries? Will they try to expand on the universe? At this time, not much is known about the upcoming project, but it will surely be spectacular.