Film Review – The Rhythm Section
The Rhythm Section
Before The Rhythm Section’s first trailer, it was the film that had so many paparazzi shots of Blake Lively in wigs and dirtied up while filming it. Just from the random photos, it became apparent that this might be Blake Lively’s attempt at pulling a Charlize Theron in Monster. Pre-judgement’s aside, Reed Morano, an acclaimed cinematographer, directed it and I will always support females behind the camera, especially those who are working their way up to top positions such as director.
The Rhythm Section takes its name from the novel of the same name by Mark Burnell. Burnell also wrote the screenplay, his first try at doing so. It follows Stephanie Patrick, a young woman who fell into desperate straits after losing her entire family to a plane crash. The crash was suspicious, and a freelance investigative journalist, Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), finds Stephanie to tell her of his findings so far. Unfortunately, Stephanie appears to be at the end of her life, or at least her caring about what is happening to her. She is addicted to drugs and prostituting herself. Proctor throws her a lifeline, a focus, and it ends up being revenge. Through Proctor, Stephanie finds his anonymous source, “B” (Jude Law). Through some questionable thought processes, B ends up training Stephanie to be an undercover assassin who will kill those responsible for killing her family.
The opening scenes will startle you. Blake Lively is almost entirely unrecognizable. She is transformed into Stephanie in a dirty, short wig and uses an English accent. She is covered in bruises and cuts and clothes herself in rags. While she wanders the streets of London and if you did not look her straight in the face, you would assume that it is any other homeless or struggling person. She never really transforms into a beauty throughout the film, other than a couple of disguises. The film should be applauded for this choice. She cleans up her act, but never really becomes the “old” Stephanie we see in multiple flashbacks with her family. Even in her quest for revenge and to make those responsible pay for what they have done, she never heals completely. There is a weight on her shoulders that is never lifted. She has help in coping with her trauma, mostly thanks to B.
This film is not a typical spy thriller, even though it brands itself as being from the producers of the James Bond franchise. Just seeing this brand attached to the film does itself a disservice. Stephanie will never be at the caliber of a James Bond or B, her trainer. She is clumsy, hesitant, unsure of herself and not cut out to do what she wants in any way shape or form. These character flaws are both a plus and a minus for the audience. She has the balls to take on men who could easily kill her because she does not have the instincts or the talent to accomplish what she wants without a massive physical and mental effort. The audience may expect her by the end of the film to be much better than she was at the beginning, but that never happens. She improves markedly, but she will never be Lorraine in Atomic Blonde (sorry for using another Charlize Theron reference). The character of Stephanie is realistic, much more so than James Bond.
While I can continue to crow about Stephanie and her portrayer, even the best character will fall short without a story good enough for him or her. At the end of The Rhythm Section, the story felt off and did not have quite the payoff one would expect. This feeling may be because author and screenwriter Mark Burnell and the film’s producers are hopeful for a sequel. The novel is the first in a series that revolve around Stephanie and further her story. My major complaint with the film is the lack of details of Stephanie’s history. Other than flashbacks to the same family gathering and a mention of her attending Oxford, the audience never learns how she gets to where she is at the beginning of the film or any of her life experiences that inform the character. The novel or its sequels may touch on her history more than this film and the author possibly held back in the script, hoping for a sequel or an incentive to pick up the source material.
The Rhythm Section holds the promise of an alternative assassin or spy thriller, one where the main character can’t quite make it or achieve the level of badassery required to complete any mission without some major issues or significant injuries. It’s an alternative type of these films that doesn’t resort to being a comedy. It holds failure, mistakes, and a deeply-flawed character above the seamless action sequences. While I would love to say that it is a film worth your time, it left this reviewer unsatisfied with the ending and wishing it could have produced something more exciting. An original character was there for a complex film that deserved her, but it lacked the backbone to support her story.