The Rhythm Section
Dir: Reed Morano
Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Mays, Max Casella and Richard Brake
1.75 out of 5.00
Filmmakers often talk about a film having “rhythm.” Writer/director David Mamet is often labeled as having a particular “dialog rhythm,” a structure in the way words are crafted for characters to say that follow a beat or a specific pattern. There is “visual rhythm,” the symmetry of framing a shot like in films by Wes Anderson or the movement of the camera to show motivation like in Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer.” Rhythm can be a very important, deliberate element in the filmmaking process.
“The Rhythm Section,” directed by Reed Morano, puts the word “rhythm” into its title but any sense of rhythm or reason is lost in this sometimes spy film, sometimes revenge tale, sometimes espionage film, but mostly just a convoluted mess. Starting with the title of the film – which I’m still not exactly sure what it’s meant to imply, aside from a line of dialog that is thrown in but never amounts to any kind of explanation.
Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is introduced stalking into a worn-down building. She slowly raises a gun to the back of an unknown person’s head but before the result is revealed, the film flashes back eight months. At this time, Stephanie was a drug-addicted prostitute, weak and filled with sorrow due to the death of her entire family on an airplane she was meant to be on. A freelance journalist finds Stephanie and informs her that the death of her family was no accident but a planned bombing. Stephanie is angry and decides to find the people responsible and kill them. Things don’t go as planned and Stephanie is forced to flee. She finds a former MI-6 agent named Iain Boyd (Jude Law) who decides to help her get free from addiction and train for the moment of her revenge.
“The Rhythm Section” begins with an interesting setup, offering a contrasted view of a woman trying to make sense of her trauma. Lively commits to the role; she is vulnerable and frail in the early parts of the movie, and even as she develops into a revenge-seeking spy, you can still sense her uneasiness with the decisions she hopes to make. It’s disappointing that the narrative didn’t focus more attention on this key element. Lively is a talented actress and could have developed this character into something fascinating if provided the material and time to build the character better. The same can be said about Law’s character, who has an interesting ambiguity. Instead, the film falls into uninspired clichés and unnecessary twists and turns.
The one shining moment for this film is in the construction of the action scenes involving Stephanie. When she is placed in danger, gun fights, car chases and hand-to-hand fights, the film keeps the perspective of these moments with Stephanie, showing how the atmosphere and environment are affecting her and how jarring a car chase would be if you have never been in one. It’s a nice touch of filmmaking.
Still, “The Rhythm Section” just doesn’t have the strong narrative needed to support its lofty ambitions. Lively and Law provide committed performances, but the film doesn’t meet their quality. Instead, the film is lost in its design and never finds the melody of the story it wants to tell.