In Reed Morano’s The Rhythm Section, Blake Lively stars as Stephanie Patrick. Once a promising medical student, she turned to a life of drugs and prostitution following the death of her parents, brother, and sister in a plane crash three years earlier.
Stephanie, along with the rest of the world, was led to believe the plane crash was an accident. But then a reporter contacts Stephanie, informing her it was in fact an act of terrorism. This sets Stephanie on a path of revenge, aiming to seek out and kill those responsible for the attack.
The Rhythm Section has an interesting enough premise. Stephanie is just a regular person who has gone through unimaginable tragedy. Feeling as though she has nothing left to lose, she takes up this extremely dangerous mission in an effort to try to find some semblence of justice for her family and the rest of the victims from the attack.
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Unfortunately, The Rhythm Section falls short or completely fails in almost every aspect, save for a trio of strong performances. Other than a sometimes-inconsistent British accent, Lively is easily the movie’s high-point. You can see the pain and anguish on her face in every scene. You can feel that she’s trying so desperately to obtain closure that even she knows may likely never come. Lively gives it her all as Stephanie and it shows.
Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown are the other two major characters, as ex-MI-6 agent B and ex-CIA agent turned “information broker” Serra, respectively. And while Law and Brown give exactly the performance you would expect from two great actors, the characters themselves don’t have much to offer. There are small attempts at character development that don’t land because they don’t go anywhere.
Both B and Serra essentially serve as various deus ex machinas for Stephanie. She has to infiltrate a businessman’s heavily-guarded apartment, B easily sets it up. There’s a key piece of intel she’s looking for, she asks Serra and he gives it to her. What helps keep these kinds of movies engaging is continued suspense in between the big action scenes. And The Rhythm Section doesn’t have that. At all. When she’s not actually in the field on a mission, Stephanie doesn’t really have to work for anything. Unlike Stephanie, the movie is too afraid to risk anything; it plays it too safe.
That’s not to say the action scenes are much better. Being so inexperienced, Stephanie is often over-matched; she still doesn’t quite know how to handle herself. Though it would be fair to point out that it’s a refreshingly realistic approach (nobody in her situation would be able to instantly become a world-class assassin in this short amount of time). But it doesn’t work in the larger context. It sticks out so much that it removes you from the action at hand.
Had the story spent more time on the personal, human side of things, The Rhythm Section could have doubled as an interesting character study. But as it stands, it’s nothing more than a boring spy thriller, too afraid to take any real risks.
A trio of strong performances can’t keep The Rhythm Section from getting in its own way, ending with a dull result from an intriguing premise.