“The Rhythm Section” seemed promising on paper in the wake of female-heroine blockbusters like “Atomic Blonde” and “Captain Marvel.” Contrary to expectations, however, the film’s lack of realism and entirely action-based plot detracts from Blake Lively’s superb acting, making “The Rhythm Section” subpar at best.
Adapted from Mark Burnell’s 1999 thriller novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Stephanie Patrick (Lively) as she seeks revenge on the people who orchestrated a plane crash that killed 239 people, including her parents and two siblings. On her path for vengeance, Stephanie is trained by a former MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law) who places her through weeks of intense physical exercise and often tells Stephanie she will not succeed.
For starters, the story is far from believable, detracting attention from what is a serious movie. In the first few minutes of the film, it is established that after losing her family in the crash, Stephanie, a top student at Oxford, becomes a drug addict and a prostitute. After only a few weeks of training, however, she is a seemingly impenetrable master spy with the capacity to kill. The seriousness and tragedy of Stephanie’s situation makes the lack of realism in the plot all the more problematic. The director repeatedly tries to make the viewer see Stephanie as a changed woman, but this does not feel believable, considering viewers never get to see Stephanie improve.
Admittedly, there are a few moments throughout the film that portray Stephanie’s weakness, such as her continuous crying while performing a car chase and her inability to kill a man once he reveals he has a daughter. These few genuine moments, however, are minimized by the lack of realism in the rest of the movie.
The fictitious nature of the film made the ending predictable and wrapped up too neatly, which minimized the struggles Stephanie dealt with throughout the course of the film. Dealing with issues like terrorism and organizations as serious as the CIA and MI6, the storyline should have tried to be more accurate, something the producers seemed to miss. Perhaps a twenty-something drug addict can become a brilliant assassin who fights terrorism but “The Rhythm Section” fails to show that transition on the screen adequately.
Moreover, while the writers do a decent job indicating the trajectory of the plot, the majority of the movie seems disoriented by jumping across different locations. Stephanie is always moving and the film transports the Tangier, Morocco; Marseille, France and New York all within minutes, without giving the viewer a moment to pause and take in what is happening. While the fast-paced nature is appropriate for an action movie, the constant changes in Stephanie’s location, interlocutors and objectives seemed to be a ploy by the director to make up for the lack of context and reality surrounding Stephanie and her actions.
The one redeeming quality of this movie is Lively’s acting. Best known for playing a privileged teenager on the TV show “Gossip Girl,” she manages to step away from her “it girl” reputation and is almost unrecognizable as Stephanie. She commands each scene and each of her many personas, from a hopeless girl in the beginning to an assertive woman by the end. Her versatility of emotions and ability to show layers of fragility while simultaneously serving as a heroine deserve praise. Not to mention the fact that Lively broke her hand in a scene with Law — perhaps a testament to her dedication to the role. Ultimately, Lively’s vulnerable performance makes up for the lack of reality otherwise prevalent in the film.
“The Rhythm Section” is admirable for its attempt to spotlight a strong female heroine, but its full effect is limited by a flawed plot. To allow Lively to shine, the writing and direction of “The Rhythm Section” needed to be more refined. The film has many flaws — too many for Lively’s stellar performance to save.