The summer is coming to a close with mystery thriller Atomic Blonde featuring Charlize Theron in lead role as Lorrain Broughton a British spy sent to West Berlin to recover some important information. Based on the graphic novel series The Coldest City the film is created by John Wick director David Leitch. Highly hyped up through action packed trailers and a star filled cast featuring James McAvoy and Toby Jones, I was slightly disappointed this film didn’t live up to my expectations.
One major stand out from the trailer was the soundtrack the accompanied the film and helped cement the era. This is used cleverly with popular late 80’s and 90’s music such as Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ is played in German throughout an interrogation scene, this theme follows with other popular tracks being played in German. This means the songs are recognisable for audiences but do not break the Berlin setting. The soundtrack also flips between being diegetic (within the world of the film) and non-diegetic subtly through the use of car radios, a boom box and the TV in the background. In doing this the film is filled with the sentiment of the songs and shows they are not being used without reason, Kaleida’s ‘99 Luftballoons’ stands out the most giving a scene emotional power. However there are points at which the pace of the film slows and the soundtrack is not used, here I feel slower and quieter songs could have been used to fill the silence. In comparison to the trailer the soundtrack is not used to its full potential which is slightly disappointing.
One major draw of the film for me was seeing Theron kicking some ass in hand to hand combat. The fighting sequences throughout the film were stunning, with no unrealistic ability to avoid being hit the fighting gives the audience the thrill of the action without becoming ridiculous. The amount of fighting in the film increases greatly as the tension climaxes before the conclusion fitting with the pacing of the film. It is good to see that Theron is given the majority of the fighting when McAvoy could easily have stolen the show and been given a larger role. That was another draw for me to see a strong but not hero-like female figure in a leading role being given physical scenes. However there are times when the action slows and it is in these moments where McAvoy outshines Theron, his subtle ability to play an audience and make them unsure is stunning.
The setting of Berlin at the fall of the Berlin Wall was interesting and gave the film something completely different compared to other action films this year. The 80’s are a decade that is being given a revival at the moment with the music style, fashion and hair all coming back into style, however being set in Berlin gave this films a very different feel. The threat of the cold war and the tensions of East and West were very palpable throughout the film creating the tension for the action and the deception. I would like to see more films explore times like this rather than sticking with setting the action during the present or the future which is another popular trope at the moment. However I feel this film does not do the setting justice as it doesn’t feature many scenes of the action that was actually taking place at the time, the links of the mystery plot to the era were flimsy as well and could have been constructed in a less complex way.
Being based upon a graphic novel gives the film something visual to recreate, which is not always possible or done well. With the graphic novel series ‘The Coldest City’ being entirely in black and white the film had the challenge of colouring it appropriately. The use of neon lighting especially in the bedroom scenes at a very graphic quality to the film, with only three dominant colours being used at once. The construction of the shots such as the framing and the framing is also very reminiscent of the drawing style used in the graphic novels. All together I was impressed with how it has been translated onto the screen.
All in all it’s a good film, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t the action filled thriller I thought it was going to be. The setting and the adaptation are interesting and well done alongside the high quality action scenes we have come to expect from Leitch. However some elements could have been done better and let the film down through the slower scenes in which we see more dialogue and spy work. Also the 15 rating is well deserved with the amount of violence and the scenes of a sexual nature that take place.