The Rhythm Section Review: Lively and Morano liven up dull material
The Rhythm Section, based on the novel of the same name by Mark Burnell, has been “almost out” plenty of times and gone through quite a development hell. Originally, the film was set to be released last year in February but end up being delayed to November after the film’s star Blake Lively was injured on set. Eventually the film was delayed to the end of January and strangely hasn’t gotten a whole lot of marketing buzz behind it.
Without any sort of research, I don’t think I would’ve even known that long-time James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were attached to the project. Broccoli even talked about not wanting a female James Bond because she wanted to promote more original stories featuring action heroines, but oddly failed to mention this film for some strange reason. There’s no doubt that the development of The Rhythm Section has been quite a mess and, unfortunately, so is the final product.
The film follows Stephanie (Lively), a woman whose life is completely ruined after her family is killed in what she thought was a plane crash. However, Stephanie learns her family’s death was actually caused by a terrorist attack and seeks vengeance against those that were involved. With the help of a former MI6 agent (Jude Law), Stephanie must learn new skill and find her own strength as she assumes the identity of a top assassin. Although her skills aren’t super strong at the start and she has no experience in any kind of espionage, she’s driven by the vengeance she seeks and embarks on a violent path to avenge her family.
The film starts on a great note with Lively’s performance and Reed Morano’s direction creating some investment into Stephanie’s story and the action. The first act nicely makes viewers care about Stephanie losing her family and where it’s left her. This immense tragedy has put her in a broken life of prostitution that’s hard to see because Lively sells it so well. There’s a strong human story at the center of The Rhythm Section that’s brought out through Lively’s strong performance. She’s easily one of the best things about the film and one of the main aspects that holds your attention.
Along with Lively, the film’s action sequences are also pretty stellar with Morano’s direction action a more realistic feel to it. There’s not a lot of quick cuts, so fighting and car chases feel more immersive and allow viewers to get sucked into what’s happening on-screen. There’s a great fight sequence between Stephanie and Law’s B that looks as if it’s done in one take and it’s comes off much more realistically because of how Morano handles showing action. Not to mention, since Stephanie isn’t born a trained assassin, she still shows some struggles in her path for vengeance that feel fitting and it adds a sense of realism to all of the action. Honestly, I’d love to see Morano and Lively team up again in the future – but work with better material.
While I can’t say anything about Burnell’s novel because I haven’t read it, the story is an absolute mess – which is strange because Burnell wrote the screenplay of this film. Basically, after the entire sequence of B training Stephanie, which lasts a little too long, the film loses its sense of direction and its easy for viewers to become disconnected to the material and Stephanie’s journey. Her goal in trying to kill the terrorists that killed her family is neither grand nor emotionally impactful enough to keep viewers invested into what’s happening. All of Stephanie’s struggles and the build up of her seeking her vengeance are totally overshadowed by all of the new information and characters that are shoved into the rest of the film. In short, you nearly forget where things are going because everything that’s built in the first act either becomes irrelevant or loses its meaning.
Outside of Stephanie, the characters lack any sort of complexity or uniqueness that makes them totally forgettable. Without Law trying to make something out of nothing, B. is just your typical angry, reclusive, somehow all-knowing ex-spy that trains Stephanie. There’s nothing interesting that makes you care about him otherwise and he’s barely in the movie. Another “big character” that fails to make an impression is Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown), a powerful informant that Stephanie has a strong relationship with. He’s has very little depth and isn’t given the time or care on-screen to make his “relationship” with Stephanie or the nonsensical twist involved with him believable, interesting, or surprising. Everyone just simply fades into the background and fails to give Stephanie’s journey any kind of complexity or depth.
The Rhythm Section isn’t a total loss thanks to Lively’s strong leading performance and Morano’s direction, but damn is its story a mess and totally forgettable. It certainly marks a disappointing end to a surprisingly solid January. Like I said, Lively and Morano are strong here and I’d love to see them make another action team-up in the future – I just hope they find better material to work with.