Atomic Blonde (2017): Movie Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

David Leitch's first solo directorial film Atomic Blonde would have been a failure had he not cast Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton. John Wick's success gave a clue about what to expect from David Leitch, being privileged to have a large audience ready to consume anything served at them: wrapped infancy, choreographed action, etc. Most of the films 'look good' these days. Atomic Blonde still stand out, its colour palette is diverse, its luminance striking, the unrestrained camera movement dreamy and overall production exuding brandished indulgence.

David Leitch tries everything at his disposal to compensate for the brevity of action sequences--starting with an interesting story, followed by snappy and crisp dialogues spoken by badass characters; Jonathan Sela, the cinematographer is successful to make it look visually captivating, blood and splitting action with the supercool 80s music to complement the extravagant frames. Indeed he is successful to make Atomic Blonde not get too caught up in self-admiration of its brilliantly choreographed action sequences, but it is held back by characters which are hard to empathize with. Moreover, they are too smug to be weak, they are better off without our sympathy. It's not really David Leitch's fault. It's rather ours that we tend to raise our expectation when a film starts off so well in all departments. To expect more from a film made solely for the purpose of cheap thrills will prevent you from enjoying whatever the thrill Atomic Blonde has to offer.

I could take Atomic Blonde for thirty minutes more if it were to be more affectionate and considerate of its characters. It feels as if Atomic Blonde uses all what is good about it as a means instead of end (Yes there is a peculiar dialogue on the same Kantian Maxim.) Everything is subordinate to the action sequences while the film's premise pretends suggests otherwise. Charlize Theron and James McAvoy have injected life in the curious but one-dimensional characters. Theron is cool, seductive, pensive, dismissive and fierce and her performance pervades the thin skin of her character and her stark talent is visible as the intensity eats through the facade.

The unnecessarily convoluted story fools us into thinking of Atomic Blonde as a smashing spy thriller which turns out be nothing but an ostentatious action film. It sets out to improve upon John Wick but it fails understandably so as it couldn't afford go beyond the surface of 'spy' setup which would have increased the drama at the expense of action.

There is a very, very long take (for an action sequence), handheld shot, where Lorraine knocks over a dozen man which also includes hand-to-hand combat. It is just as good as ones we saw in John Wick, this time it looks more real because of the handheld long take and Lorraine taking on 2-3 men at once rather than the whole unit which looks great but choreographed, like an intense action crescendo. It is immediately followed by Lorraine and Spyglass running away and I literally jumped from my seat when A Flock Of Seagulls' 'I Ran' started in the background. The decision to use 80s music blended with neon tones gives a svelte feel to Atomic Blonde which is its redeeming feature.

Tyler Bates's music makes the characters look effortlessly smug even when they blankly stare. In terms of technical execution David Leitch has come a long way since John Wick. Kurt Johnstad's screenplay wasn’t the most expedient choice to conceive David Leitch's vision, which seems incompatible when compared to John Wick which owed its success to a simple-no-rubbish-setup. Atomic Blonde somewhere misses out on that aspect due to its screenplay which feels pretentious and incompatible at the hands of David Leitch. Yet, the film is miraculously salvaged by a glorious performance by Charlize Theron--the Atomic Blonde at the centre receiving generous support by the rest of the cast. The music and visuals shine as well to serve an entertaining action frenzy. Fans of the genre shouldn't give Atomic Blonde a miss.

Rating: 6/10

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Atomic Blonde - Official Trailer (YouTube)

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