Tag Archives: David Leitch

Atomic Blonde (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Atomic Blonde</strong> (2017)

(On Cable TV, April 2018) We’re at the tail end of eighties nostalgia now, but I won’t complain if it brings us as finely crafted action movies as Atomic Blonde. Set against the inevitable fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this is a deliciously retro piece of work that nonetheless embodies 2010s attitude and filmmaking prowess, with Charlize Theron once again burnishing solid action credentials as an English spy trying to stabilize a dangerous situation where no one can be trusted. She is intensely credible as a capable heroine, holding up against waves of assailants: Atomic Blonde’s centrepiece sequence is an impossibly long sequence in which she fights her way out of a building against countless assailants, a virtuoso demonstration of what’s now possible with personal trainers, audacious directors, seamless CGI and clever techniques. This sequence is made even better by how it leaves visible marks and bruises on the heroine, dramatically reinforcing the realism of the sequence even in a generally fantastic film. (David Leitch directs, solidifying his resume after John Wick.) Other actors also impress, from an increasingly credible James McAvoy as an action star, to Sofia Boutella playing a very unusual “soft” role going against her established screen persona. (We’re really sorry to see her go.)  John Goodman and Toby Jones help complete the triple-crossing framing device that fully plays out Cold War mythology tropes. A terrific new wave soundtrack helps complete the package, adding much to the film for those who even dimly remember the late eighties. Aside from its intrinsic qualities, Atomic Blonde is also a further salvo in how the eighties are being digested into mythology, ready to be re-used as second-generation pop-culture elements. Even if you don’t care about that, Atomic Blonde is a solid action movie fit to make any cinephile giggle with joy at how well it works.

John Wick (2014)

<strong class="MovieTitle">John Wick</strong> (2014)

(Video on Demand, May 2015)  Hitmen movies are a dime a dozen and so are revenge thrillers, but there’s something to be said for competent execution.  John Wick is right up there as a genre-savvy action thriller that completely understands what it’s doing, and seems determined to keep entertaining its audience even as it riffs off the oldest clichés in the book.  Keanu Reeves stars in a vengeful assassin role that’s not a bad fit for his acting range: He doesn’t have to emote much, and he’s able to meet the physical requirements of the stunts he has to do on-camera.  As with his Man of Tai Chi (and before that, of course, the Matrix trilogy), it’s easy to guess that his willingness to give himself up to his stunt experts give him added credibility in carrying the role.  Still, much praise goes to directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, two stunt specialists who clearly understand what it takes to build an exciting action sequence: long shots, clean geography, dynamic camera moves, small details to build credibility (such as reloading bullets) and actors willing to commit to the demands of the film.  Add to that the hints of a deeper mythology in which assassins seem to operate within a subculture, and you get a film that deliriously enjoyable, not so much for seeing Reeves shoot people in the head as much as being in a universe where that kind of thing is possible.  There are some memorable action beats scattered throughout the film (the most striking being a drifting drive-by shooting), but the key point here isn’t so much the oft-ridiculous premise as much as the refreshingly good execution of the formula.  John Wick is the kind of out-of-nowhere modest surprises that still manages to entertain in a world dominated by franchise behemoths.  Alas, that means that the sequel is only a year or two away…