Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Based on: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgård
Denver and Delilah Productions, Closed on Mondays Entertainment, 87Eleven, Focus Features, 115 Minutes
Let me preface this review by stating that this has been one of the best summers for movies in a long time and honestly, I wasn’t expecting much apart from one or two films. But the thing that has really set this year apart is the smaller films, not the massive blockbusters. This film, along with the magnificent Baby Driver are two motion pictures that I will continue to enjoy for years to come. Both will eventually make it into my permanent library.
So based off of the preceding paragraph, it is safe to assume that I really liked Atomic Blonde. While I thought that I would like it and was excited for it, the film was just a great marriage of several things I love: fantastic action, energy, style and a fantastic soundtrack. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for Cold War period pieces, especially those set in the 1980s.
One really cool aspect of the film, is that it takes place in Berlin – starting a week before the fall of the Berlin Wall and leading up to it actually coming down. The film shows life on both sides of the wall and the cultural differences and shifts between all the people in this 1989 Berlin bubble. There is even a casual reference to David Hasselhoff arriving in Berlin. Do I need to remind anyone of his famous Berlin Wall performance, as that concrete beast came crumbling down?
Atomic Blonde is a spy espionage thriller but starring a woman, which just doesn’t happen enough with the genre. It isn’t a groundbreaking concept or anything but after decades of James Bond movies and their male dominated clones, a stylized and high octane version of the concept starring Charlize Theron was music to my soul.
Theron does not disappoint but has she ever? She is perfect as the agent sent to Berlin to battle brutish KGB agents while engaging in a playful cat and mouse game with the always fantastic James McAvoy. In fact, the chemistry between Theron and McAvoy is uncanny and I wish that they actually had more screen time together.
Theron also has fantastic chemistry with Sofia Boutella and I’m glad to see Boutella getting meatier roles because she was exceptional in this. Also, you get to see both women naked in this. Sorry, but that’s a high point for anyone crushing on Theron for years and anyone that is currently crushing on Boutella, as she works here way up to bigger things. Both actresses are stellar in this, boobage or not.
The film employs an 80s new wave soundtrack, for the most part. The music style is fitting, as this takes place in 1989. It is the selection of songs that is most impressive, however. From David Bowie’s “Cat People” to Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel” to the incredibly effective use of George Michael’s “Father Figure”, the music is just on point. Even Marilyn Manson’s cover of Ministry’s “Stigmata” works its magic with the visual smorgasbord it’s synced to.
The choice not to use any music during the climactic final brawl was a good one. Despite the stylized nature of the film, it grounds this scene back into reality and showcases the grittiness of the situation. The fights are brutal, especially the last round of fisticuffs. It is an impressive sequence that not only showcases Theron’s athleticism and toughness but it proves how hard she is willing to work to create movie magic. I already respect her but her dedication to these scenes, in particular, brings that respect to a new level.
The director, David Leitch, has a background in stunts and it shows. He’s been the stunt coordinator or stunt actor in the Bourne movies, TRON: Legacy, 300, V for Vendetta, the Matrix series, Fight Club, Blade and several others. He is also the director of the upcoming Deadpool sequel and proves, with this film, that he will be able to handle those duties. I’m actually really enthused about what else Leitch can give us behind the camera.
Atomic Blonde is fantastic. There really isn’t anything to complain about or to dislike. It was explosive and even the slower parts kept your attention, as it doesn’t waste any time on things not integral to the plot. I hope that this becomes a series as checking in with this character every few years could be a lot of fun.