Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
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You feel like The Rhythm Section is trying to tell the audience something pertaining to grief. The film is about a woman named Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) attempting to cope with being the sole survivor of her family who all died in a plane crash. In the three years since her parents, brother, and sister died, Stephanie has changed her name and has turned to prostitution and drugs in an effort to hide how empty and lonely her existence currently is.
Stephanie is unwillingly pulled into a conspiracy that reveals that the plane her family died on wasn’t a crash, but an explosion thanks to a bomb on board. The identity of the man who made the bomb is even revealed to her, but she soon realizes that she doesn’t have the skills to get the revenge she so desperately seeks. In an effort to get all of the truth and not just pieces of it, Stephanie travels all over the world throughout the course of The Rhythm Section and even forces her way into being trained by an MI6 agent currently off the grid who is only known as B (Jude Law).
The Rhythm Section is not only based on the book of the same name by author Mark Burnell, but the screenplay is written by Burnell as well. The film is just under two hours, but the book is 608 pages long. The film already feels like Stephanie’s story is stretched out far too thin in an effort to drag out each event to lackluster circumstances. If Burnell accomplished that with the film, what does he do with over 600 pages?
The majority of The Rhythm Section is spent focused on Blake Lively’s face. The intention was probably something along the lines of capturing how heavy grief affects an individual. But there’s only so many times you can stomach her staring blankly into the camera with tears in her eyes that never roll down her cheeks.
The other weak aspect of the film is that Stephanie Patrick is no secret agent, but the film purposely uses her as one anyway. Stephanie was supposed to be on the flight with her family when they died, but she didn’t get on the plane. Now the only way she can move on with her life is if she is the one who kills the man responsible. To her credit, she does spend some months training after spending however long it took to get the drugs out of her system. But she’s basically thrown into the field despite her lack of experience because she literally has nothing else going on. She almost dies every time and the moments where she’s trying to boast about her abilities are laughable.
There’s talent in this cast and nobody involved with The Rhythm Section knows how to utilize them properly. Jude Law’s B character is so convoluted. Is he meant to be some type of tough love? He’s overly rough on Stephanie to try to get her ready for what will be required of her once she’s a supposed secret agent or at least someone posing as an agent. His introduction starts off logical; why would he train the woman who got the man he was working with killed and is so wrapped up in withdrawal she can’t see straight? He not only trains her, but he continues to treat her like dirt. Maybe the character’s motive is that if Stephanie isn’t going to give up, he’s going to be the one that makes her wish she had. He also goes out of his way to illustrate that he no longer feels anything for anyone; guilty or innocent. The loss of his wife has left him numb to the world.
Coming off of an incredible performance in last year’s Waves, it was a delight to see Sterling K. Brown in The Rhythm Section until it absolutely wasn’t. Brown is totally miscast and misused here. He does nothing besides drink beer and wine and be involved in the one intimate scene of the entire film that comes out of nowhere.
The one sequence in the film that is almost entertaining is a car chase where Stephanie portrays that her driving skills are just as bad as her soggy and limp quest for vengeance. The one time The Rhythm Section almost has your blood pumping it ruins it with poor cinematography. The camera is so jerky and it’s zoomed in way too close so you can’t fully process all of the gunfire, innocent people being in harm’s way, and buses exploding at a moment’s notice.
B tells Stephanie when he’s teaching her to shoot a gun to calm herself. Her heart is the drum and her breathing is the bass. The concept of allowing your body to soothe itself in tense situations by listening to itself and finding that center of perfection is the only worthwhile factor The Rhythm Section has. It doesn’t go anywhere and Stephanie certainly doesn’t listen to those words despite repeating them in her head a few times.
When people talk about January being a slump month for movie releases, The Rhythm Section is a sterling example. It crawls at a pace that will have your heart pounding out a flailing, balls-to-the-wall drum solo in frustration. Blake Lively’s stagnant screen presence will have you hyperventilating a rapid fire bass line; the pace you wish the film had.
© 2020 Chris Sawin