The Rhythm Section

Posted: February 11, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Reed Morano. Starring Blake Lively and Jude Law.

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Three years after her family died in a plane crash Stephanie Patrick (Lively) is a drug addicted prostitute in living in London. When journalist Keith Proctor (Spooks’ Raza Jaffrey) approaches her to say he has proof that the plane crash was no accident and was in fact caused by a terrorist bomb, initially Stephanie doesn’t believe him but eventually she goes back to his home where he shows her the evidence which points to a bomb maker named Rezza (Tawfeek Barhom) Stephanie gets a gun and tracks him down but can’t pull the trigger.

Desperate to try and get revenge for her family she locates Proctor’s contact, a former MI6 agent named Boyd living in the wilds of Scotland (Law). Initially Boyd ignores Stephanie but she convinces him to train her so she can take revenge, not only on Rezza, but on the radical terrorist who hired him, known only as U17.

Despite the training Boyd doesn’t expect Stephanie to succeed, but helps her assume the identity of a dead assassin named Petra Reuter. Stephanie heads out into the world to track down those responsible for her family’s deaths, but is she remotely ready?

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From the producers of the Bond films, the marketing yelled, and it’s true, EON is behind the film and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson serve as exec producers, but it despite the spy thriller similarities this is a very different kind of film to Bond, and one that’s proven very unsuccessful, in fact many are claiming it’s effectively bombed. While I wouldn’t say it’s a great film by any stretch of the imagination, I think it has been somewhat unfairly treated and there is a lot to like here, though most of it centres around a great central performance.

The dialogue is clunky, with tired tropes such as “You were the best student at Oxford before you went off the rails”, and the plot isn’t any better. It’s a fairly generic revenge thriller. Yet somehow it held my attention, mainly because of Lively, both her performance and how the character of Stephanie is portrayed.

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Lively gets to run with a multitude of emotions, from a drug addicted woman who’s given up on life, to someone consumed by the need for revenge, and it’s interesting to see her go from twitchy addict who doesn’t know one end of a gun to the other, to an ultra-confident  assassin…except she doesn’t, which is  one of the film’s big strengths. When Boyd tells her she isn’t right for this kind of work, he’s right, and Stephanie succeeds through luck and determination rather than skill. An ass kicking super spy like Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde she is very much not. Her fights are grim and have the scent of realism about them, which makes you genuinely worry for her safety, and Lively helps by seeming utterly terrified during combat.

Law is decent, though you wish he had more to do, and the only other character of note is a shady former CIA agent turned information dealer named Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown).

Film Review - The Rhythm Section

Morano’s direction is interesting, in particular a car chase filmed entirely from the perspective of inside one of the cars is a nice trick, but the film does feel a little confused at times, and Stephanie seems to get from A to C without going anywhere near B so there are some logical leaps.

If this had been a low budget thriller boasting a star name it might have done better, but for all the things I liked about it, at the end of the day it had a biggish budget, the power of Bond behind it, and came from, apparently, decent source material, so it should have been way better than this, and it’s hard to know where it went wrong. Perhaps in the end it was just too much set up. Stephanie is far more interesting during her training and when she’s in the field, and you almost wish we’d dropped into the adventure later, with her epiphany handled in flashback.

I still firmly believe there’s room for a female led spy franchise out there. It’s a shame this won’t kick start one because Lively deserved better.

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