How Charlize Theron, David Leitch and 'Atomic Blonde' Raise The Bar For Every Action Movie

How Charlize Theron, David Leitch and 'Atomic Blonde' Raise The Bar For Every Action Movie

Mar 14, 2017

Atomic Blonde has one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed. It's a seemingly endless fight, all presented as one long, uninterrupted camera take, that starts with Charlize Theron a few stories up in a building and climaxes in a speeding car. It is brutal, innovative, exhausting and, to stress, one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed. I know it can be frustrating to hear someone declare something the greatest ever months before most of the world will get a chance to see it, but... it really is just that damned good. 

Remember the alley fight in They Live where Roddy Piper and Keith David slug it out for six minutes straight, with each new blow feeling like it could - and should - be the last, but it never actually is? Now imagine that fight if it had the cinematography of the car scene from Children of Men. Put those two things together, and John Wick co-director David Leitch proving himself on his first solo movie, and you're in the ballpark of what Atomic Blonde pulls off.

But what's so incredible about this scene (which you can see a tiny sliver of in the trailer below) is that it's not merely a slick gimmick where Leitch is showing off how long he can keep a scene going. It's also the best character moment in the entire movie. It's where we see what Charlize Theron's secret agent is really made of. She's not invincible. She's not always the strongest person in the room. She's not always the best fighter. But she wants it more than every other goon who gets in her way, and she will fight dirty as hell if she needs to. The damage she takes is as savage as what she gives, and that's what matters most.

Halfway through this marvel of a scene, when Theron is stumbling around like it looks like she just got an actual concussion but she's still grabbing every blunt object she can find to survive, it really feels like a life or death scenario. So many action movies rarely, if ever, achieve a sensation this palpable. Their heroes are too cool. They're too good, too quick on the draw. That can be fun and has its place, but here this stunning scene is all about what happens when being the best just isn't good enough. Each fall down the stairs (there are many) or crash into a wall (again, there are many) or weapon out of reach feels like it could be the end of everything. It's a sequence that's so well performed and directed by the time it ends the audience feels like they themselves were just in a fight. 

It's an astonishing piece of filmmaking, both on a craft and story level. It goes well beyond the gimmick of just being a super elaborate fight and transcends to something momentous. It's simply unforgettable in its execution and its pay off. It's the kind of scene that is so good it justifies the entirety of the rest of the movie. Not that everything around it is bad (it's basically a Bond movie with Theron instead of Daniel Craig, complete with all those pros and cons), or that the other action scenes are boring (they're definitely not), but it's the kind of scene that feels like you're witness to a moment in movie history being born.

It's a landmark action scene that'll be referenced for years to come. And I don't envy the pressure David Leitch is going to feel to top it in his next movie, Deadpool 2, but wow are we all going to be spoiled if he does-- especially if he can figure out how to get Charlize Theron in it.


Categories: Features, Film Festivals
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