The Rhythm Section is a bit of an enigma. If the title doesn’t immediately throw you as having nothing in particular to do with the actual film, the movie will. The whole way through, I couldn’t figure out if I liked the film or was somehow utterly disappointed by it. There are moments that are enticing and drive the narrative quite well, but everything else about the film — the editing, the direction, the writing and the atmosphere — all seem to contradict themselves, essentially putting up a wall to keep you from fully engaging in the exploits of this casual revenge thriller.
Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is your typical tragic heroin. After the death of her entire family in a plane crash, Stephanie resorts to drug use and prostitution to cope. She is a shell; desperate to die but unable to end her own life. Then walks in Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), a reporter who’s researched the crash extensively and has determined that it wasn’t mechanical failure that took down the plane, but a terrorist bomb.
This news is unsettling for Stephanie at first, but it soon invigorates her to find out more, pushing her to seek revenge on those who took her family away. This rapid turn of emotion is the first sign that the film tries a little too hard to get itself where it wants to be. Every step of the way, Stephanie is put into positions that may not be completely logical or natural, but are necessary for her journey, at least according to the writers.
Stephanie eventually finds her way to B (Jude Law), a former MI6 agent who’s been tracking someone known as U17, the mastermind behind the bombing. B reluctantly (but not really) trains Stephanie for the trials she’ll face by first detoxing her and then showing her what she might expect as she heads into this nefarious world.
After a montage of relatively simple training sessions (and one moment that seems a bit too far-fetched), B decides to put her into the field, half expecting her to get killed. Her goal? Track down Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown) for information that she can use to hunt those responsible. Soon, Stephanie is caught in Serra’s grip and is forced to hunt down others who may not have anything to do with her ultimate goal.
Each level brings their own high and low points. For one, I was never convinced, even after the training montage, that Stephanie was ever equipped enough to fight or survive against the people that she’s forced to encounter. She acts tough on the surface, but deep down, she’s a scared little girl with absolutely no skills. And yet, she’s still able to hold her own and take down these highly-trained terrorists.
The script does give her a little help. One of the baddies has a health issue that requires him to suck from oxygen every so often, and one is often referred to as a dumb, worthless gopher (or some such). This allows for the movie to have it both ways; they can keep Stephanie a fragile little bird who can’t kill someone because they have children of their own, and at the same time, a badass assassin who will do anything to avenge her family.
This contradiction filters its way into everything else. Director Reed Morano can’t seem to decide if he wants the movie to be a gritty, noir-esque revenge thriller or a straight-up Jason Bourne homage. This is evident in the different styles of editing, cinematography, and direction that shifts between the two styles when the mood of the film changes. Whenever we’re in a poignant moment between characters, we enter the grittiness of the noir; but when we jump into action, we’re now in modern-day visual territory. As one might say — pick a lane, movie.
On the plus side, Lively and Law are both outstanding, especially when they’re together on screen. There wasn’t any doubt that the combination of these two stalwarts would be anything but good, but they seem to somehow control the chaos and keep the film from entirely going off the rails.
The action, despite the contradictions mentioned above, is also well done. The requisite car chase, in particular, is extremely riveting, as it sets the camera inside Stephanie’s car and doesn’t cut away during the entire sequence, putting you in the passenger seat as the action unfolds. We’ve seen this type of film making more frequently in the past few years, most notable in the Oscar-nominated 1917, Charlize Theron’s spy thriller, Atomic Blonde (one of the best fight sequences of 2017 for this very reason), and the first trailer for this year’s A Quiet Place: Part II, and it’s because this style works to add a sense of reality, grit and authenticity to what’s happening.
All of this combined is why the film is frustrating. I still, as of this writing, can’t seem to wrap my head around whether or not I like the movie. With everything it has going for it, there’s just as much going against it. It’s almost as if the film is in someway bipolar; the majority of the film drives through your typical revenge plot with questionable motives and ideas, only to shine bright for mere moments to show us what the film was capable of if it simply understood itself.
My Grade: B-
Reversing the names and changing the ages of the kids does nothing for Gretel and Hansel, a rather boring re-imagining of the classic fairy tale that diverts so much from the original text that it becomes a chore just to get through the less than ninety-minute film that has to narrate its way through its schlocky and uninspired plot in order for it to make any sense. D–
Next week, new movies include Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn). If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.