The Lazily, Perfectly Anachronistic Music of ATOMIC BLONDE / by B. Roche

There's only 3 types of movie reactions I'm really comfortable with: Love, like, or understand. Hating a movie takes a while for me to process.  


I do like Atomic Blonde.  It has another low-key excellent Charlize Theron performance. We take her for granted. The rest of the cast is pretty good too. There is icy blue industrial Cold War Berlin atmosphere to spare.  The action scenes, particularly a lengthy third-act fight/chase scene designed to play as a single take (I'd have to check but there just had to be numerous cuts), are well done.  It was directed by one half of the team that made the first John Wick, and I think I might prefer the overall technical accomplishment of Atomic Blonde to JW. Overall, it's a pleasant throwback to the decade in which it's set, the '80s, where it seemed sturdy mid-size action movies like Atomic Blonde came out all the time, no big deal.

But the soundtrack's a problem for me. The film takes place against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall coming down in late 1989.  No one was still listening to "99 Luftballons" in 1989.

Or for that matter "Cat People (Putting out the Fire With Gasoline)," which was released in 1982.

Or "Father Figure," which came out in 1987.

"Der Kommissar" came out in 1979(!) as did "London Calling."

"Cities in Dust" by Siouxsie and the Banshees was from 1986.

"I Ran So Far Away" by Flock of Seagulls? 1981.

"Voices Carry," 1985.

And there's a cover of New Order's "Blue Monday," ditto 1985.

That's most of the film's soundtrack and all of it is from years before the event of story. As this list of Billboard's top 100 songs of 1989 shows, there were plenty of hits to choose from. But is it really a choice? A movie budget is a finite thing. You probably can't go hat in hand back to the studio to ask them to kick in for Paula Abdul.

As Brenna suggested, perhaps the pop culture of Eastern Europe was lagging behind the US, and "Voices Carry" could have been new to their ears.  There's a running gag in the movie of British spy James McAvoy having a side business selling black-market Jordache jeans, so there really was a Communist lockdown on spanking-new Western culture.  He's not outfitting Berlin with the Guess? jeans that were the real rage of 1989. (At least in my middle school.)

Yet the soundtrack also features Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," at the time a new song, a hint of changes to come. 

So if the soundtrack can't be current, what can it be?  The icy synths and European origin of most of the tracks give the film a consistency of tone.  I prefer that to "Look Away" by Chicago, the actual #1 single of 1989.  Atomic Blonde wasn't very 1989, but it is very '80s.