The Rhythm Section is the type of movie that should work and has so much going for it, yet it ends up falling short in all areas that truly matter. It’s frustrating when this happens, as it feels like such a missed opportunity when you know that it had the potential to be more – possibly even a franchise starter. Yet aside from Blake Lively’s strong performance in the leading role, everything is just void of emotion and going through the paces of a spy thriller that has some thrills, but only enough to make you realize what could’ve been.
The plot ideas are solid: Lively plays Stephanie Patrick, a woman who lost her family in a plane crash. In the years since, this once promising student has turned to a life of drugs and prostitution, killing herself slowly as she feels life isn’t worth living. That is until one night when freelance journalist Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) shows up and tells her that her family weren’t killed in a random plane crash, but a terrorist bombing that was covered up by the government. At first she doesn’t believe him, but after visiting his apartment and seeing all his research plastered all over the walls, she finds he’s telling the truth and that the man who created the bomb that killed her family is named Reza, and he’s currently attending school in that very city.
Up to this point the film works, as I expected to get to know Proctor a bit, understand why he felt Stephanie could help him and see where it goes from there. Instead, Stephanie takes pictures of all his information and steals various items and cash from his apartment after he leaves for the day. She goes to a pawn shop, buys a gun and heads to the school to kill the bomb maker herself. She enters the school, buys food, sits down at the same table in the cafeteria that Reza is sitting at, pulls out the gun under the table, points it at him…but freezes. At the same time, Reza realizes that he’s been made, steals Stephanie’s backpack (without her realizing) and books it.
Stephanie decides to return to Proctor’s apartment only to find it a complete wreck and him murdered on the bathroom floor. She runs away, eventually stopping to check over the images of his research that are on her phone. There she finds a picture of a lake with GPS coordinates and Proctor’s source B on it, she checks them on her phone and sees they lead to a remote place in Scotland.
So, there’s still potential for the movie to work, but it’s clear that this is trying to be a hard hitting, more true to life spy thriller than James Bond or Jason Bourne are. Those are action-packed thrill rides where you know that they’ll both be shot at by a dozen guys and no bullets will hit them. We expect that and we go into those movies with our suspension of disbelief firmly in place and ready for a good time. The Rhythm Section is based more in reality, it’s grittier, and Stephanie is just a normal girl in an extraordinary situation. Can she turn into a spy? Sure, that would be awesome to watch happen; however, we expect things to be a bit smarter, and a bit more real in a film like this. So when Proctor’s super secret former MI-6 agent source is so easily found via a picture that Proctor had printed out and all but had marked “MY SOURCE’S LOCATION!” for no real reason at all, it’s kind of disappointing.
But that’s all just the setup, as the true film begins when Stephanie arrives on B’s doorstep and asks for his help to get revenge on the man who killed her family. So they go through a montage of sorts where B (which is short or code for Boyd, who is played by Jude Law) is training her to shoot, and gets her in shape by hiking, and shows her how to act under pressure when being chased. I mean, again, the ideas are there but it all comes off poorly. Months apparently pass during this montage and it never feels like Stephanie has done anything that’ll truly prepare her for life as a spy. Maybe that’s why it’s so random when Boyd shows up at the end of the montage wearing a bulletproof jacket and tells her to shoot him in the chest. She fires but hits the upper right side of the vest, yet he just looks at it and says she’s ready and sends her out on her first mission.
It’s so rushed even though it doesn’t feel like it. It just doesn’t come across as well as it should for the time that’s been invested in it all. What I like about it is that Stephanie doesn’t instantly become a lethal assassin, and she makes mistakes, but again, the story around this fact just falls flat and is filled with characters that have no depth or lasting impact on the viewer. Boyd should be a badass MI-6 agent that leaves an impression on the audience, and someone we hope Stephanie can become more like because who doesn’t love a good ol’ honour student-turned drug addicted prostitute-turned super spy character arc?
And while that sounds facetious, I’m being honest, as I loved the idea of watching Stephanie realize why her world was turned upside down only to find new meaning in life through the act of revenge. Yet, it all just feels so sloppy in its storytelling, jumping from locale to locale without ever really giving the viewer something real to chew on when it comes to setting things up in proper fashion so that they matter later on when they should instead of falling flat like they do.
Oddly enough, Mark Burnell, the writer of the screenplay, is also the author of the book that the movie is an adaption of. You’d think that this would give him a better grasp of how to properly convey the characters he created when bringing them to life on the screen, yet instead it may have been a crutch. While Burnell has already written four Stephanie Patrick spy novels The Rhythm Section will likely be her last mission on the silver screen. Despite Lively propping the film up on her shoulders and doing all the heavy lifting, the film misses the target of becoming anything more than just an average spy flick to watch if you’re looking to kill a couple of hours.
The film looks fantastic, with beautiful scenic shots, gorgeous locales and wonderfully handled cinematography that really captures the vibe the film is looking for from one moment to the next. The darker shots still work incredibly well, and as a whole it’s just a great looking picture transfer. The audio transfer works well, with the score, sound mix, effects and dialogue all working as they should to help bring the film to life.
Stephanie’s Journey – This feature focuses on the film’s lead character and her growth throughout the story. Lively, Director Reed Morano and other cast members share their thoughts on the character and her journey from addict to assassin.
Fight or Flight – This featurette focuses on the training portion of the film, with Lively and Law both talking about a particular fight scene that was done in one shot.
Never Leave Second Gear – This feature focuses on the car chase sequence in the film, giving the viewers a look at it through Stephanie’s eyes, as well as how it came together.
One Shot Explosion – This featurette is a fun one that focuses on a bus explosion scene that happens in the film. We learn more about how it was put together, and how Lively decided to put herself at risk to make it as authentic as possible.
Designing the Rhythm Section – This feature focuses on the production design team and the work they put in to all the various locales the film jumps to, as well as the not as flashy apartment setups and so forth.
Deleted/Extended Scenes – There are also a handful of scenes to be found here for those who are interested.
Paramount Pictures Presents The Rhythm Section. Directed by: Reed Morano. Written by: Mark Burnell. Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Raza Jaffrey, Sterling K. Brown. Running time: 119 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Apr. 28, 2020.
Tags: Blake Lively, jude law, The Rhythm Section