Stereotyping ‘Male’ Characteristics: Atomic Blonde & A Family Man

Image source: Ster Kinekor

In the spy action thriller, Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron acts as a British MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, who is sent into cold war Berlin to recover a top secret document. The film opens with Broughton being grilled post-operation by her superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). She looks battered and bruised. The story goes into the past from here, flashing forward at intervals to further debriefing scenes in which Broughton seems to be getting a raw deal.

Broughton was chosen for this difficult mission, it transpires, because of her amazing skills at detecting and beating up hordes of fighting men. Warned not to trust anyone Broughton is even suspicious of her MI6 contact in Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy). A number of important foes with names I found hard to keep a track of come and go, as do groups of others sent to confront Broughton and prevent her succeeding in her mission.

The only person Broughton seems to genuinely connect with is female French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a vulnerable,

Image source: Ster Kinekor

inexperienced first-timer. The two women have sex.

In Atomic Blonde there is action, fighting, double crossing and plot twists from beginning to end. I particularly liked a scene in which Broughton slips into a group of people escorting an important contact while snipers aim at them from buildings up above. In a synchronised move everyone in the crowd puts up black umbrellas obscuring the prey from the shooters’ view.

But Broughton’s brilliant fighting skills seemed unrealistic. The film’s feminist stance – the two main female characters are virtually the only goodies – is undermined by the aggrandisement of male-type characteristics of physical aggression. Paired with lingering camera shots of Theron’s beautiful profile, this focus wasn’t enough to carry the shallow plot.

Atomic Blonde opens at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 25 August 2017.  

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Another film that portrays a stereotypical male role, this time in the form of the undesirable absent father, is A Family Man.

Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) works for a recruitment agency and will do anything to meet his figures every month. He undercuts other agents, lacks integrity when dealing with job seekers, is constantly robbing his family of time with them, and puts undue pressure on his son Ryan (Max Jenkins).

When Ryan becomes ill Jensen is challenged to shape up and become a better man, husband and father.

A Family Man is a moralistic story of character building. But, like Atomic Blonde, has unrealistic aspects. Recruitment is equated with the tough world of stock trading. Jensen’s wife is too forgiving. And the denouement is much too neatly tied up. I found the plot bitty, Butler’s American accent annoying, and the ‘absent father’ theme a bit tiresome.

A Family Man is currently on circuit in South Africa.


Bridge of Spies: Stresses Humanity over Politics

In Bridge of Spies viewers are taken back to the Cold War era of 1957. The story, based on true events, revolves around the exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) for American spy plane pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell). The exchange is effected by a Brooklyn insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), and eventually takes place on Glienicker Bridge in Germany.

Despite the obvious importance of politics in this story, Steven Spielberg’s focus is on the personal, and so the wider Russian/American conflict simply forms the backdrop. This has the effect of drawing the side story – that of an American student caught up in the East German conflict at the time – into centre focus as well. Because of clever bargaining tactics and humane motives, Donovan manages to swap two Americans for just one Soviet spy. After this encounter, Donovan apparently went on to effect the release of thousands of exiles in Cuba, about 8000 more than he was originally tasked for. Similarities to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List – one of my favourite films – are obvious.

Rylance’s completely understated performance of Abel is a standout and simply serves to highlight the humane focus of this film. Both sides of the Russian/American cold war conflict are fairly equally portrayed. Indeed, the scene in which the exchange of the spies takes place on a bridge seems symbolic of this very thing; symbolic of two enemies being equally guilty, symbolic of the equal humanity of the “enemy” with oneself, and symbolic of the importance of people over politics.

I wonder what film Spielberg will make post the American/ISIS conflict…

Bridge of Spies opened at cinemas in South Africa on 6 November 2015.