Rife with femme fatale and revenge-story tropes, The Rhythm Section suffers from woefully uneven pacing that often groans along when it should hum. Director Reed Morano cut her teeth as a cinematographer, and it shows, as the film is vividly shot in its various, largely European locales and features a handful of captivating action sequences, most impressively in a pulse-pounding car chase through crowded streets filmed with a handheld camera from the passenger seat. Blake Lively turns in a compelling performance as a bereft everywoman transformed into crackerjack assassin, but lacking a fresh approach to the international intrigue subgenre, tedium sets in not long after the bodies begin to drop.

Opening with Stephanie Patrick (Lively) wracked by the trauma and grief sprung from a plane carrying her parents and two siblings exploding over the Atlantic, the film lays it on thick, giving us scenes of a gutted present-day Stephanie turning tricks and using smack intercut with gauzy flashbacks of her laughing and posing for family photos. She’s even more pained by the knowledge that she was originally meant to be on the same plane, but canceled when she didn’t feel like accompanying her family on the trip. When a freelance journalist (Raza Jaffrey) visits her brothel, he informs Stephanie that the tragedy wasn’t an accident but was actually an act of terrorism, and what’s more, MI6 and the CIA are letting the bombmaker, Reza (Tawfeek Barhom), freely roam the streets for reasons unknown. After buying a gun, Stephanie somehow immediately locates Reza in a college cafeteria but can’t pull the trigger, and when her journalist tipster winds up dead, she goes straight to his source (Jude Law).

Despite this relatively promising, if implausible, buildup, The Rhythm Section flags drastically when Law makes his way onto the screen. Taking Stephanie under his wing with virtually no questions asked, he’s the Yoda to her Skywalker, chastising her temperament and lack of skill while nevertheless making her training into a lethal weapon his sole focus. He even gives the film its platitudinous title, as he explains that the trick to succeeding at high-stakes espionage is keeping one’s breathing and pulse steady – the lungs are the bass and the heart is the drum, you see. It’s a trite notion that is repeated precisely once by Stephanie minutes later and then forgotten for the remainder of the film.

As insufferable as Law’s character is throughout his relatively limited screen time, Sterling K. Brown isn’t much better as a connection who seems poised to aid Stephanie in her pursuit of not only killing Reza but also the higher-ups calling the shots. The twists in the film’s third act are telegraphed far in advance, and the whole endeavor never builds up enough momentum to keep pace with Lively’s committed performance. With strong overtones of A Vigilante meets Atomic Blonde – swapping the ‘80s new wave-rich soundtrack of the latter for snappy oldies – The Rhythm Section suffers most from losing its focus on what fuels Stephanie in the first place, as though elite badassery is the soothing balm that cures all trauma. With this emotional disconnect, all we’re left with in the end is sharp cinematography and dull plot.

  • Revisit: Idiocracy

    Just as Mike Judge’s lampooning of cubicle culture in Office Space feels like a relic fro…
  • Oeuvre: Miyazaki: Ponyo

    Our goldfish-turned-human obtains her agency by adding to the human world the vibrancy of …
  • Children of the Sea

    Once the kaleidoscopic spectacle ends, we’re not left with much substance. …
  • Public Trust

    Crafted to appeal to the masses, the film is a sober, moderate call for a return to reason…
  • Revisit: Idiocracy

    Just as Mike Judge’s lampooning of cubicle culture in Office Space feels like a relic fro…
  • Foster Boy

    An astonishing, infuriating and frequently demoralizing tale undone by a general lack of p…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Revisit: Idiocracy

Just as Mike Judge’s lampooning of cubicle culture in Office Space feels like a relic fro…