Here is the transcript for my review of Atomic Blonde, which aired Aug. 9 on Episode 78 of The Bridge. As you may know, I teamed up with my good friend, John Lund, to do movie reviews for his sports radio show, The Bridge, in a segment called “Five Minutes in the Film Room.” I’m going to put all of my transcripts on this blog about a week after the show airs as a way to archive them in print and, if you missed the show, give you a review of the film. My rating system is sports related to fit with the theme of the show, so you won’t have the traditional star rating. But I’ll always be clear how I felt about the film.
The Bridge is broadcast as a one-hour radio show every Wednesday night at 7 ET on Sports Radio America. After the live broadcast, the show is released as a podcast on iTunes and at lundinbridge.com on Friday. You can listen to the live show every Wednesday on Sports Radio America here or through the TuneIn app.
What’s up everybody? I’m Joe Baress, and this IS Five Minutes in the Film Room.
Based off the graphic novel “The Coldest City,” Atomic Blonde tries to capitalize off the success of John Wick, putting Charlize Theron in the lead role as an assassin. Now, when you think of strong female actresses, Theron jumps to the top of the list. So, naturally, I was pretty excited seeing her casting. The trailers only added to the hype with the one-take actions sequences shot over a mash-up of songs, including Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead.” Stories of Theron also circulated about how much effort she put into making the film and getting her stunts down, even chipping a few teeth along the way. Producer and executive producer of John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 and an uncredited director of the first installment according to IMDB, David Leitch takes an official seat in the director’s chair for Atomic Blonde. But did it capture the quality of the Keanu Reeves cult classic? … Let’s go to the tape.
Atomic Blonde gives you exactly what you would expect as far as the action sequences. I feared the trailer would spoil all the great scenes and it didn’t. It kept the best action sequence for movie audiences alone. It’s a one-take sequence on a stairwell and it’s glorious. That scene is the epitome of the time and effort put into the stunt choreography and what makes this movie tick.
To the shock of no one, Theron shines in the leading role as Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent. The intricacies of not only her fight choreography but also her acting blew me away.
What I enjoy a lot about the Netflix Daredevil series is that Matt Murdock isn’t so much better than the people he fights that they don’t touch him. He gets punched, he bleeds, he limps home. To me that’s realistic, and that’s exactly what you get with Atomic Blonde. The movie even starts with Theron in an ice bath brutally bruised and wounded from head to toe. Watching the invincibility of characters while cool in theory actually gets pretty boring when there are no stakes. Theron is in the thick of a mission, granted you know she makes it out of because the movie is not shot in chronological order, but at what cost. It’s real and it’s the right way to handle action. Longer shots, even one takes so we could see the action happening instead of cutting it to pieces and shaking the camera while adding real stakes, like the threat of death, injury or the failure to save lives. That’s art folks.
One of the most underrated actors today, James McAvoy also puts together another solid performance. Maybe not as good as his work earlier in the year with Split, but he shines nonetheless, adding to his impressive movie season.
I absolutely praise the film for its action, but we have more to discuss. While the acting, fight choreography and camerawork pump up the film’s quality, the plot knocks it back down. Theron’s character travels to Berlin right around the time the wall is about to fall, proving the Cold War is still in full effect. The MI6 agent is hunting down a list of operatives that if released would comprise the whole network of agents. Sounds good and basic in theory but when put to screen it becomes convoluted and confusing. Just when you think it’s over, you realize … There’s still a scene from the trailer that you haven’t seen yet. Well, that’s because the movie is not over. It decides instead to go completely off the rails. The story gets worse because the screenwriters tried to be clever or maybe that was a part of the source material. Either way the last five minutes come out of nowhere and don’t fit the rest of the film. The only thing I will give it is Theron’s acting leads to the moment at the end. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll just say she’s a great actress.
Also, to compare it to John Wick, you feel the hardships Keanu Reeves is going through. They don’t need much building. His wife died. And then car thieves killed his dog, which his wife left for him so he would have someone left to care for. It’s simple. It doesn’t require much explanation. We all understand the loss that he goes through and why he wants to take down the entire organization that was responsible. It all culminates in a sequence when the people he is trying to kill tell him, it was just a dog. Why go on a killing spree? And his rage boils through and we understand that that dog was going to allow him to grieve properly and keep him away from the life of an assassin.
Atomic Blonde on the other hand gives you the death of an agent Theron’s character knew, but goes nowhere with it. Characters are more so plot devices to make us feel like we should care when it does nothing to show you why Theron should care about this guy in the first place. Therefore, we as an audience are not invested. The movie doesn’t sell the vengeance angle and leaves you wondering why the death of someone who supposedly means something to our hero was a focus at all.
THE BOTTOM LINE, I like Atomic Blonde and will consider buying it on Blu-Ray when it comes out for the beautifully shot action that we only get in a select few films nowadays.
But the plot most definitely falls apart especially at the end, keeping it short of a John Wick caliber film. I’ll rank Atomic Blonde as Blake Griffin. It’ll hit you with some slick moves and emphatic dunks, but will never live up to the player it’s hyped up to be.