ATOMIC BLONDE (8 out of 10) Written by Kurt Johnstad and Directed by David Leitch; Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy,, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones; Running time 1hr 55 minutes; Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity; In wide release July 28, 2017
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, Charlize Theron and the director of John Wick David Leitch aim to reinvent the spy genre … for the 1980’s? Our opening crawl sets us in the weeks before the fall of Berlin Wall in a game of Cold War espionage with the highest and most personal of stakes. This film really blew our tiny robot minds with how amazing it was, so we all needed to weigh in with our personal takes on it.
Kelly: When the credits of Atomic Blonde began rolling, I turned to my friends and said, “I want to see John Wick and the Atomic Blonde in a fight against each other!” Little did I know that the director, David Leitch, worked as an uncredited director for John Wick. And, like the credited director Chad Stahelski, Leitch also worked as a stuntman coordinator and stuntman.
Adam: So the John Wick films are two of my favorite action movies of all time. The frantic and kinetic editing and story combined with great direction and a fun story helped them set the bar that all other action movies have had to meet since then. I’m also a sucker for a good spy movie, and Atomic Blonde takes these things that I love so much and masterfully mixes them together into one badass movie that comes close to surpassing the Wick films.
Andy: I think that’s the easiest comparison to make here, but this draws from a deep well of other cinematic masterpieces, from Hitchcock to The French Connection, to The Usual Suspects. It also reminded me of the Sin City films in that the way the scenes are framed and the use of color gives it a beautiful visual style, one missing in so many blockbusters.
Kelly: It also reminded me of Sin City! And I’m learning that when stuntmen make action movies, it shows. No one knows better than they what it takes to make action scenes believable and adrenaline-pumping, and there are plenty of thrilling moments in Atomic Blonde.
Adam: Agreed, and David Leitch’s fingerprints are easily seen all over this movie. The fight scenes are absolutely brutal and go on for so long and are filmed so well that the audience is about as out of breath as the characters on screen. This is mainly due to the fact that the majority of them are shot to seem like they were pulled off in one take a la Birdman. By playing out more in real time without quick cuts and having them fully choreographed is a trick that I haven’t seen since The Raid movies. This kind of filmmaking is difficult, but it pays off in spades in the long run.
Andy: There are things they do in fight and chase scenes in this movie that had me grinning from ear to ear. I would’ve stood up and clapped, except not only would that have been impolite, but also I didn’t want to miss what was coming next.
Kelly: Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, the titular Atomic Blonde. She is under interrogation for the events leading up to the conclusion of her mission in Berlin. Her orders were to track down an important list and to trust no one.
From the moment she lands and is thrust into a close-quarters fight in a car with a fashionable red shoe as a weapon, the movie barely pauses to take a breath. Theron manages to make the action scenes effortless, and through it all she remains fashionably dressed, 80’s-style. Speaking of the 80’s, the soundtrack is one that I think many will love. There’s “99 Luftballoons,” “Under Pressure,” “Major Tom,” “I Ran (So Far Away)” -- the list goes on.
Adam: Yes! This has been the summer of great soundtracks!
Kelly: James McAvoy is David Percival, Lorraine’s contact in Berlin. But can he be trusted? I remember Donovan telling Indy in The Last Crusade, “Trust no one, Dr. Jones,” and that advice should always be taken to heart. But the plot’s twists and turns pale compared to the fight scenes in the stairwell, the protesters and the snipers, the car chases. Lorraine uses everything at her disposal as a weapon. She’s fast, and she’s smart. But her opponents just won’t quit. At one point I just wanted to say, “Are you still trying to win? You have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance.”
Adam: You hit the nail right on the head! None of this would be worth a damn if the lead characters weren’t perfect for their roles, and everyone here is in fine form. Most credit has to be given to Charlize Theron who after Mad Max: Fury Road and now this is showing she is a powerhouse action star as well as just an all-around phenomenal actor. She exudes strength, cunning, wits and sensuality like James Bond only wishes he could. Couple that with the fact she did most of her own stunts, and I would put money on her taking down John Wick any day of the week. And as much as this is wholly and deservedly Theron’s film, McAvoy definitely needs to start being cast in pretty much everything as he is terrific at whatever he sets his mind to, and he doesn’t disappoint here.
Andy: I still haven’t forgiven McAvoy for Split, but he is getting back in my good graces with this performance.
Adam: I’m still halfway through that one, and while I have my gripes, he’s not one of them. And it doesn't hurt that he completely does it for me!
Andy: I can get behind that. Theron is great, and this is also another amazing performance from Sofia Boutella, who keeps showing up in the most interesting of roles.
Adam: She was magnificent as the deadly bodyguard/assassin with the prosthetic sword legs in Kingsman!
Andy: She definitely offers the heart of the film as a mysterious femme fatale. Her relationship with Theron is … well, one of my favorite reactions in the entire movie is during an extremely steamy moment and they cut back to the debriefing room, where an open-mouthed Toby Jones and John Goodman sit quietly stunned by what they’ve just heard. Jones and Goodman are so good in this, even as they only serve as convenient exposition.
Kelly: I loved nearly everything about this movie. A strong, savvy female lead, songs that blended with the action and took me back to another decade, and fight scenes so incredible I laughed with joy. I was raised on 80s action movies, and I could easily see my dad and I renting this and watching it if it had come out when I was a kid. But in those days it was Seagal, Stallone, Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Norris, and the like. I don’t really remember major action female leads until the days of Buffy and Xena. But this is the summer of kick-ass women like Wonder Woman and Lorraine Broughton.
Adam: I can't agree with you more! I've been so excited to see so many more strong, female leads in our movies! Women deserve to finally be able to see themselves shown in these incredible roles. What's also important is that this is one of, if not the first, portrayals of a bisexual main character in a summer, tentpole blockbuster. Lorraine is shown in relationships with both men and women, and as part of the LGBT community, representation such as this is vital to me. While I’m not bisexual and identify more as queer, the fact of the matter is that Lorraine got to represent someone like me, and seeing that in such a big movie moved me powerfully.
Andy: Not only that, it neither felt forced nor gimmicky. Lorraine is just a human being, and, unlike James Bond, her relationships have an emotional resonance. They drive her motivation and give her a more complete character. This is not only satisfying as representation for an often erased community, but as simply a part of normal human nature and a far more satisfying romantic subplot than most spy thrillers of any stripe. How refreshing.
Adam: Andy, I love you so much for saying that. Bi people too often get left out of the conversation or straight up ignored. They're not gay or straight people who just haven't “found” the right guy or girl yet, and Atomic Blonde wonderfully shows this. And yes, the sex scene was quite erotic, but it went beyond just sex and nudity to titillate the male audience. Later on, we see them cuddling and actually interacting and caring about each other. It was fantastic to see the film focus on actual intimacy and not just the physical act.
Kelly: My one complaint is that I felt like the scenes at the end were tacked on, like it didn’t screen well and more was added, possibly because it was too ambiguous an ending. So there were about three scenes that filled in all the blanks, leaving the audience satisfied and informed. But I would’ve been perfectly happy with what seemed like the true ending. The entire film was so satisfying and so damn fun.
I highly recommend.
8 out of 10
Adam: It’s obvious I liked this movie quite a lot. Is it perfect? No, there’s a bit too much exposition throughout, and a friend of mine pointed out that there are too many times where the characters keep repeating the same thing over and over again. But aside from that, this is an insanely fun movie that anyone who is a fan of the Wick films or just spy movies in general is going to love. Throw in a few twists and double and triple crosses that even I didn’t see coming, and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect summer, popcorn movie. And can I mention again how important our representation is?
8 out of 10
Andy: I 100% agree with both of you. But what sold me the most on this film was its attention to details and sense of space and time. This movie feels like it’s straight out of Berlin 1989, with a soundtrack stolen from a discotheque. A couple of songs especially resonated: Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel” where they sing “My little girl/I’d prefer/You behind the wheel/with me the passenger.” What a perfect commentary on this femme-tastic spy thriller. The other is David Bowie’s “Cat People” where he is “putting out fires with gasoline.” There is no better description of the bombasticity and reckless, ruthless fun of this movie. And I’ll never listen to Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” the same way ever again.
8 out of 10