It’s always amusing to watch how a film will survive shortly after its release. For the casual moviegoer, the best indicator will be what they “hear” or “see” through social media in the coming weeks. This is the new norm, but for others like yours truly, they might just go watch it based on how it looks. Granted, I do this primarily because of this very column, but it still can be a nice approach given how one friend or critic’s quick take can sway you. I just find that when you have some sort of pre-conceived notions about a film, it will affect the entire experience. But, if you go in with a blank slate, the result can really be worth your while like it was for me with “Atomic Blonde.”
Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, this story is definitely one that takes a minute to get used to. I’m not sure if that’s because of how it’s told or how it was filmed, but luckily we had Charlize Theron to help us through. Without her and her portrayal of MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, I doubt I would be writing this sentence. That’s not to say the film was bad, it just needed her overall presence to hammer the story home. Some of that is on purpose, but I just felt like the story was a bit shallow in parts making me want to pick up The Coldest City to read. Because for the life of me, I can’t imagine there wasn’t more to her and this story of a secret list of active Soviet Union field agents getting into the wrong hands. But, when you break it all down and subtract all the espionage, that’s what this film was built around. That’s it, so in many ways, we should be giving high praise to director David Leitch for what he was able to do here because it’s not often you can build an entire spy thriller around something so small.
For those that have forgotten, Charlize Theron is quite the actress. Sure, she may not always choose the roles you would want her in, but when she is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her. That’s a gift and why she already has an Oscar, but more than that, she is one of those actresses that can completely dive into a role. And that was on display here from the very first moment you laid eyes on her, this time in a tub full of ice after what we quickly learn was one brutal day on the streets of Berlin. Theron just has this unique intensity about her though that comes out in a variety of ways. Here, we felt it not only through every fight sequence leaving her bruised and battered, but also in the more intimate moments in the bedroom with the extremely naïve French agent Delphine Lasalle played by Sofia Boutella. I was impressed as this is yet another new type of performance for Theron, who also served as one of the producers underneath her company Denver & Delilah Prods. Turns out this film was all Theron’s idea after reading an unpublished version of The Coldest City. Apparently she wanted to “break the rules that had been set for women in the genre,” according to a Variety article. Well, I think she is doing it, clearly wanting to right the wrong from “Aeon Flux.” And the good news here, she had a decent supporting cast led by James McAvoy and John Goodman. Both were tremendous in their respective roles, but I will admit that Goodman stood out in his limited time continuing this run he has been on lately in these authoritative roles.
The one thing that stood out with “Atomic Blonde” outside of Charlize is the overall look of it. It’s just so rare these days to be treated with this much “art” within this genre. So it’s nice to have a director like David Leitch who is willing to take chances. Sure, it might not be what has become the new norm with all the superhero films, but I actually love that. To be able to watch a film and really feel every last punch as if you were there is a pleasure. We got it with both “John Wick” films and we are getting it here, so the hope is we might be on the verge of rebirth of action flicks. And what was so cool about this film was how the soundtrack was right there with you the entire time. Whether it was the original or cover version, I was loving how perfectly the music fit to every move Charlize was making. That not only helped your mood as you watched, but sort of covered up whatever inadequacies from the script. So while the pace and story could have been a bit better, Leitch was at least able to sort of clean it up with his action sequences and filmmaking. The result was an overall experience that you won’t soon forget and one that hopefully will lead to a sequel one day.