“One of the directives from the beginning was ‘cool overrides everything.'”
2014’s John Wick is a stellar action movie that not only re-ignited Keanu Reeves’ action career but also put its co-directors, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, on the Hollywood map. The two are longtime stuntmen and partners in a stunt-based production house called 87Eleven, and this year saw them each deliver a debut solo outing to the big screen. Stahelski directed John Wicks 2, and Leitch created something all together different.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Commentators: David Leitch (director), Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (editor)
1. Leitch refers to Ronaldsdóttir as the “heart and soul” of the filmmaking team who “always carves out the story.” They also worked together on John Wick and the upcoming Deadpool 2.
2. An early version of the opening was like “a documentary mode” as they tried to tell the story of the Berlin Wall through visuals.
3. The man seen running through the street in the opening is the film’s stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave, “who’s also a good actor” and plays the soon to be dead James Gasciogne. He does various stunts throughout the film including the car flip.
4. The dolly shot pulling away from Lorraine Broughton’s (Charlize Theron) naked and bruised backside went on for another twelve seconds, but Ronaldsdóttir “likes to get to the point” so they cut sooner to the cigarette. As someone who thinks Lorraine is naked too much in the film I’m okay with this choice. (To clarify, as I know this is an odd complaint, I think objectifying Lorraine/Theron keeps the film from being the female Bond/Bourne it could otherwise have been.)
5. They would play the songs on-set for some scenes with David Bowie’s “Putting Out the Fire” as an early example. It enabled Theron to walk in step with the song’s beat. (Take that Baby Driver!)
6. It was originally called The Coldest City.
7. Lorraine’s line about not having checked bags because they’ve been sent ahead exists in part as an explanation of the character’s two dozen or so costume changes throughout the film.
8. David Percival (James McAvoy) has a cast because McAvoy broke his arm while on a hiatus for Atomic Blonde and working on Split.
9. Lorraine’s beatdown of the two cops after leaping out the window 32:30 was originally meant to be five cuts/shots, but after seeing it play out in the wide shot rehearsal they decided just to dolly in on a single take instead.
10. The book holding the cassette tapes at 32:53 is also in John Wick.
11. Lorraine tosses a cigarette to the ground at 33:32, and they originally had a kid pick it up to smoke only to be stopped by her saying “No way.”
12. “People” wanted them to lose the David Hasselhoff joke, but they refused.
13. They were “told to” cut out another smoking shot right before the scene where Lorraine meets with Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) at the wall.
14. David was originally written as a red-herring in regard to him being a traitor, but McAvoy suggested the character become more integral to the third act by making him an actual bad guy. He told Leitch “I’m not trying to get more screen-time…”
15. The “one-take” stairwell fight scene features multiple hidden (or digital) edits including the motion blur of Lorraine throwing a guy to the floor at 1:12:04 and a handful of whip-pans that follow.
16. Eddie Marsan also stars in Leitch’s upcoming Deadpool 2, and as he does here he’s once again in a scene where he’s underwater. People told Leitch to call cut during the scene thinking Marsan was drowning, but he was confident the actor was simply acting. (He was right. Marsan did not drown.)
17. “I’d be on my way to a hand job by the queen by now” was a McAvoy ad-lib.
18. They both choose to believe that David was actually planning to send the list to MI-6 and not sell it to the KGB.
19. Leitch cameos with his voice as the pilot of the private jet heading to Langley, VA in the end.
20. They were told in advance not to sing along with the pop songs while recording the commentary.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I did breathing for Charlize Theron.”
“It was the plan from the beginning to have music drive the movie.”
“You actually have the nicest stunt team.”
“Can’t go wrong with a ball joke.”
“I love to watch those tall people fighting.”
“This is an execution scene I love.”
Buy Atomic Blonde on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
Atomic Blonde is a fun, stylish action film that’s easy on the eyes and ears, and Leitch offers an engaging commentary on its production. He’s not shy about praising his crew and cast, and his affection for stunts and well-crafted action is infectious. It’s a good listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.