Style, Music & a Little Bit of Story - How Atomic Blonde, Baby Driver & Dunkirk Work

I recently saw three movies that are vying for box office dollar, and each have had varying success, both in dollars and in praise. I try not to know too much about a movie before I see it, this includes the trailers, as they give away so much, and reviews, which gives away everything. It is, of course, impossible not to know something, even if it is just the general thumbs up or down of the vast tidal wave of opinions and click bait headlines. The films were Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk and Baby Driver. All three movies are technically brilliant and stylish variations of their genre. The combination of music, editing, visuals and action have elevated each of these movies and have earned them various levels of praise, ranging from begrudging to worshipful. Definitely worshipful for established directors Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) and Edgar Wright (Baby Driver). However, for Atomic Blonde, the praise for the fantastically brutal fight scenes is rightfully inclusive of Theron’s execution of the scenes as well as the director, David Leitch. Acknowledgement of collaboration in creativity is a little bit more palatable than laying down platitudes at the feet of ‘auteurs’, in my opinion.

I enjoyed each of the movies, but I only want to watch Atomic Blonde again in its entirety. So I asked myself why? Why not the early Oscar frontrunner, Dunkirk, or the musical by any other name, Baby Driver? I really do love musicals. Nothing makes me happier than an effective use of music in storytelling. Baby Driver is ALL this. The artists featured in this film will definitely get a bump in sales and we will definitely be seeing many pale imitations of Edgar Wright’s mix of car chase filming and editing. I will be re-watching these key scenes again on youtube, in gif form and ultimately as memes for many years to come.

The score in Dunkirk, by Hans Zimmer, is excellent. Again. How it is used to enhance the feeling of the scene reminds me of the music in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Atomic Blonde’s setting in Berlin, 1989, gives the movie great Euro synth pop from the mid to late 1980s. The music is not used as stylishly as Baby Driver, but it will definitely make for a great soundtrack. But what gives Atomic Blonde the edge for me is two things, one has divided audiences and one has not.

Let me start with the ‘not’. Charlize Theron is so awesome in this movie. She brings gravitas and charisma to this role and you can see what it means to have someone who is a great actor bringing their A game. Not that the actors in the other two movies are not good, but they do not own the screen the way she does. James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella are also great. Dunkirk deliberately gives you the situation over the individual for the majority of the film, anchoring its information dumps and emotional beats with British thespians. Read Vulture’s helpful tips for telling the white young men with short brown hair apart. As for Baby Driver, only Lily James makes the very most of her paper thin role. The good people at Pop Culture Happy Hour put it best when they discuss the possible alternative casting of Baby. 

Any fairy tale can be sold by keeping the plot points true to the rules of the world that has been created, something I do not think is done by Baby Driver. Character decisions are driven by plot, just look at Jamie Foxx’s character (can’t even remember his name). Being ‘crazy’ or ‘psychotic’ is not enough. And I am still asking why Deborah would want to run off with Baby. In this she is just the dream girl, minus the manic pixie part. 

Back to the dividing element of Atomic Blonde. The story. It worked for me as the characters were well-rounded and their decisions understandable. However, some found it either boring, too much Le Carre and not enough John Wick; or too convoluted, too much Le Carre and not enough James Bond. Either way, it really does depend on how much you like John Le Carre or the plot of the original graphic novel, The Coldest City.

Go and see each film and decide for yourself.