Atomic blonde: film review

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Atomic blonde

Screenplay:  Kurt Johnstad

Written by: Antony Johnston

Illustrated by: Sam Hart

Directed by: David Leitch

With: Charlize TheronJames McAvoyEddie MarsanJohn GoodmanSofia Boutella and Toby Jones

The good

It is not without its faults, but Atomic blonde is so cool and sexy and exhilarating, you will be eager to overlook any shortcomings.

Our Charlize carries the film with a cool-ass performance, astounding fighting chops and the usual gravitas she brings to any performance. Even though Lorraine is calm, cool and collected, Charlize gives her a vulnerability. She is nervous before a fight. She is overcome by horror after the now famous stairwell fight scene. She is moved by Delphine’s vulnerability. Read a lovely New York Times interview with her here.

The fight sequences are, indeed, as visceral as the trailer makes them out to be. Director David Leitch started in the industry as a stuntman, so the fighting is carefully choreographed. The tracking shots, with the cameraman being two feet from the fighting actors, add to the feeling that the audience is right there.

It is, however, Charlize’s commitment that makes the scenes feel so real. Leitch said she trained harder than Jean-Claude van Damme. Where other actors can perform four fight moves before they have to cut and start over, our Charlize could perform twenty.

What was also imperative to Theron was that every move had to be a move that a woman can do. For instance, she doesn’t often use fists, because women can easily break every bone in their hands. She uses elbows, knees, fridge doors, garden hoses and a red stiletto when nothing else is around.

The ’80s soundtrack just kills. I did grin from ear to ear when Lorraine covered up the noise of a fight by pressing play on the cassette deck and George Michael started crooning. Imagine a whiplash of a fight to the tune of “Father figure”. Hilarious.

As French agent Delphine says in the bar scene, “I look for pleasure in the details,” so, apparently, does Leitch. If you blink, you will miss the London bus with the words “Boycott apartheid”. The David Bowie track selected was written during his Berlin years. When Lorraine enters East Berlin, she has four stalkers following her. She uses a cinema as refuge. The film showing is Stalker. The list goes on.

I’m all for eighties music, but I generally avoid eighties fashion. In Atomic blonde, they managed to find the coolest, yet totally eighties, outfits for Charlize. The styling and lighting as a whole are perfect. The Atomic blonde delivers a love letter to a cold, blue and grimy Berlin, five days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

With Hollywood action flicks going overboard at the end of films with mindless, bigger-than-the-last-scene action involving buildings, planes and sometimes whole cities disappearing, I really appreciate the fact that Leitch swung to the other side of the action spectrum. Atomic blonde slows it down towards the end, and leaves you with a long, simmering scene between Lorraine and Percival. It is a pity the plot was so hard to follow.

The missing

Leitch and Theron did not want to give Lorraine a typical Hollywood backstory. She does not need to have a narrative surrounding a man to motivate her, to make her a warrior. No. Lorraine is who she is.

They also chose to make her love interest a female French spy called Delphine (a very sexy Sofia Boutella). They wanted to push boundaries, shake things up a bit. Charlize also felt Lorraine could be more vulnerable with a woman, without falling in love, without the big schmaltzy Hollywood romance. Lorraine is totally attracted to Delphine; she is drawn to her vulnerability. She allows herself to be vulnerable around the French spy. She warns Delphine to go home. She goes to find her when she thinks she is in danger. The only moment during the interrogation where she falters, where she has no pithy comeback, is when they ask her about Delphine. Yes, she cares, but she’s not in love with her.

Leitch further uses lighting to indicate mood/emotion. Berlin is dimly lit, grey and cold blue. Except for when Delphine is on screen – then, shades of red break through the blue. Check out this particular scene.


My problem with the backstory, the subtle non-Hollywood romance and the use of lighting is this: it has perhaps just not enough emotion to make us care. Viewers are used to being bombarded by in-your-face, soppy, epic love entanglements. (And I, for one, would love to move away from that.) I think Theron delivered what she could. I think Leitch could have drawn the audience in further if he had just added an extra scene or two with Delphine, if he had made their connection just a wee bit more tangible.

Without giving away anything, I agree with what Sofia Boutella said in an interview: “Delphine leaves too early.” She is the missed opportunity that could have given Atomic blonde more heart and soul.

When asked in an interview whether she would want to play Bond, our Charlize said Daniel Craig or Idris Elba could do it. She would do Lorraine. Amen.

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