The Rhythm Section, 2020.
Directed by Reed Morano.
Starring Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Mays, Ivana Bašić, Nasser Memarzia, Max Casella, Richard Brake, Raza Jaffrey, Geoff Bell, Jade Anouka, and Tawfeek Barhom.
A woman seeks revenge against those who orchestrated a plane crash that killed her family.
If at any point one character straightfaced calls the protagonist a cliché, that’s as good a sign as any to do another draft. The Rhythm Section is written by Mark Burnell (adapting his own novel) yet also given a fresh female story perspective with director Reed Morano (an Emmy winner for directing episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale) at the helm, but unfortunately, none of them know what to do with the shining Oxford student turned grieving junkie/prostitute in the face of an unthinkable family tragedy that, three years later, meets former intelligence operatives that unearth a deeper conspiracy behind what was actually a attack, while also readying her to become an assassin of her own.
Blake Lively does solid work in the role of Stephanie Patrick, but she’s being asked to convey everything from survivor’s guilt to sexual abuse trauma to drug addiction, only for some of those traits to be immediately taken away for her to transform into a silent killer taking advantage of the skills she does have. The problem is that when it’s finally time for her to get into the field (at least an hour of this movie is exposition and painfully slow training lessons), she is given missions from Sterling K. Brown (another source for intel) that feels like the most basic objectives debriefing for a Hitman game, but also if the entirety of the planning and sneaking of that mission was skipped so we could watch Stephanie go right for the kill. Basically, that’s another way of saying the action here lacks involvement and purpose aside from an impressive tracking shot car chase that switches between first and third-person perspectives. Also, you have real problems if I think the story of a Hitman game (it’s a popular franchise known for stealthy gameplay and is rarely driven by an engaging narrative) is more intriguing than the generic terrorist bombing cover-up here.
That’s not to say that The Rhythm Section needs to flesh out its villains, as they are clearly senseless murderers motivated by Islamic extremism and/or money. Although, for starters, it would be wise to not make the identity of one the attackers a mystery when there are only two realistic options to choose from (I gave up hoping to be surprised halfway into the movie). No, the bigger issue is that Stephanie herself is a boring protagonist where it’s difficult to buy into her wanting to enter this lifestyle or becoming a self-destructive mess in the first place. The story is even worse at getting into the personal pain driving these bold life decisions.
For as unnecessarily long as her field training at the hands of Jude Law goes on, it is nice that the first time Stephanie does get physical, she is still very clearly not ready for any of this, putting herself in danger and pushing herself beyond her limits in the name of vengeance. As a result, there is more urgency in danger in a few of the one-on-one fight sequences even if it’s obvious she’s not going to die. Her lack of proper preparation and combat experience also makes the aforementioned car chase intense in addition to serving as a cinematography highlight. Blake Lively also put in some gym work so that these more physical scenes come across believable and somewhat visceral; I wish I was able to say I cared about her actual character more, but I did wince every time she unsuccessfully blocked or dodged a punch. On that note, it’s a shame how little action there is in The Rhythm Section.
The characters and story simply aren’t good enough to justify saving the mild thrills until the last 45 minutes (and even then there are some serious pacing issues going from action sequence to action sequence). However, there is a worthwhile subplot to further explore in a mother who also lost someone in the terrorist attack, as it feels like Reed Morano wants to say something of substance about how men and women approach revenge from different angles. Sadly, it only gets about 10 minutes of screen time.
Lastly, it needs to be briefly mentioned that The Rhythm Section is somewhat about coping with the loss of loved ones following an airborne tragedy, which could be a touchy subject for those still struggling to process the recent death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, terrorist involvement or not. If you are sensitive to that sort of thing, it’s even more definitive that you should probably skip The Rhythm Section. There are some decent individual scenes but as a whole, *sigh* it just never finds a graceful rhythm.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com