SXSW: Atomic Blonde: Mood, Mystery, & Exhilarating Action

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atomic blonde

Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit sxsw.com and follow SXSW on Twitter at @sxsw.

It took about five minutes after the release of the first Atomic Blonde trailer for the John Wick comparisons to start. Sure, it makes complete sense, David Leitch was one half of the John Wick directorial team and the trailer featured ruthless action sequences. And yes, when striving to put together a headline or pithy tweet, drawing comparisons to popular recent releases is more than easy. So I get wanting to shout “female John Wick,” but maybe calm down for a second, take a breath, think of a serene meadow…you good? If you really just have to compare Atomic Blonde to John Wick, here’s the most appropriate comparison: Atomic Blonde is a better movie than John Wick.

If you really just have to compare Atomic Blonde to John Wick, here’s the most appropriate comparison: Atomic Blonde is a better movie than John Wick.

For those of you that have decided to keep reading, rather than tearing apart the comments section, here’s a little background. It’s 1989, the Berlin wall stands strong, and we are deep in the Cold War. In the freezing winter of Germany, an MI6 agent turns up dead, leaving his mission to transport a list of double agents in the lurch. Fearing that the information may fall into the hands of the enemy, Lorraine Broughton is brought in to take care of the mess.

atomic blondeThe role of Lorraine Broughton demands a lot and after seeing Charlize Theron completely own it, it’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to deliver. Broughton is ruthless and cool, quietly slinking into rooms with a smoothness that matches the fabric of her dress. It recalls some similarities to Theron’s recent Imperator Furiosa, that cold stare that hides a beast within. But where Furiosa minimized her own gender in order to gain traction, Broughton knows just how to use it. Theron has a quiet bravado that oozes off the screen and lures you gently inward before unleashing a fury of destruction.

As good as Theron is at playing the sly and seductive spy, she doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to the action. I mean, this is a David Leitch flick, you knew there was going to be action. Theron takes to the fight choreography like a violent fish to bloody water. She is exactingly brutal and nearly balletic in her execution. The fight choreography itself is a thing of wonder to behold. Leitch delivers a bevy of fight sequences that are among some of the best and most creative ever put to film.

One in particular, a what felt like fifteen-minute-long one take stairway sequence that deserves to be celebrated entirely on its own. The sequence is exhilarating and shot wonderfully, taking full use of the long take to build tension and excitement. Leitch teases you, making you think it’ll end before it takes another turn, until he finally cuts and your left sweaty, out of breath, and in a state of absolute awe. It is possibly one of the best action sequences that I have ever seen in the theater.

Leitch delivers a bevy of fight sequences that are among some of the best and most creative ever put to film.

The thing is, Leitch could’ve just delivered the fantastic action that we’ve come to expect from him and I would have been more than happy. But what makes Atomic Blonde so great, is that it is a legitimately well built spy thriller. The story is full of twists and reveals that in less capable hands could have easily devolved into the realm of convolution. And Leitch does it all with such style. The color palette is bathed in shadows with pops of bright pinks and blues, wearing its late 80s setting like a badge of honor. It delivers the classic dark alley vibe with flecks of neon keeping you from having to squint in fear that you might miss some little detail in the shadows.

That’s really just the beginning of what there is to appreciate about Atomic Blonde. I haven’t even touched on the fantastic supporting cast, including a scenery chewing turn from James McAvoy, or the soundtrack that on its own is a masterpiece of 80s nostalgia with each and every song choice elevating the film. Not to mention my new favorite and most surprising use of George Michael’s “Father Figure” that I’ve ever seen in the cinema. Atomic Blonde isn’t David Leitch continuing to do what we’ve seen before; it is an absolute cinematic step forward of mood, mystery, and exhilarating action.

9.2 AMAZING

Atomic Blonde isn’t David Leitch continuing to do what we’ve seen before; it is an absolute cinematic step forward of mood, mystery, and exhilarating action.

  • 9.2
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About Author

Derek was the only engineer at Northeastern University taking a class on German film and turning a sociology research paper into an examination of Scorsese’s work. Now in Austin, TX, he blatantly abuses his Netflix account on the reg, although his List mocks him as it proudly sits healthily above 200. He continues to fight the stigma that being good at math means you are not any no good at writing. I good write, very much.

  • Mont48

    Yet they gender-swapped a character just so they could do the bury your gay trope. And get a cheap lesbian sex scene, i suppose