The Rhythm Section Review
Most notable for her work on genre driven dramas such as the post-apocalyptic I Think We’re Alone Now or dystopian television series The Handmaid’s Tale, it is no surprise to see Reed Morano turn to the spy thriller. The Rhythm Section is adapted from Mark Burnell’s 1999 novel of the same name and comes from Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the producers of James Bond. While there is certainly action aplenty unlike Bond, there is little else that makes this film interesting.
Following a terror-driven plane crash that resulted in the death of her family three years earlier, Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is drawn into a plot to uncover the truth - and the perpetrators - behind what happened. Seeking help from an off-the-grid agent, Iain Boyd (Jude Law), Stephanie soon takes on the identity of an assassin and is sent out into the field.
The story itself is solid, though not exactly fresh. It hits all the beats expected of a spy-thriller, even adding a romantic sub-plot that is passed over so quickly that there’s barely any reason for it being there in the first place. Yet what’s most frustrating about The Rhythm Section is the way it belittles its own lead. Whether this is due to them specifically trying to make her more than a ‘female Bond’ or not, it is simply uncomfortable to watch. So much screen time is taken up by Stephanie’s training which consists of her being beaten and mistreated. When an empowering moment for her is preceded by her mentor telling her that her family dying and her turn to drugs and prostitution is “not a tragedy, it’s a cliché”, it’s not empowerment. It’s manipulation.
Unfortunately, this issue of disparaging its lead is also seen throughout the action sequences. It takes a while for Stephanie to take on her new role as assassin but once it happens, the film does everything to make it seem like she isn’t ready. In almost all of her contracts, she fails. Either luck or another character has to step in every time to ensure the right conclusion occurs so they can move on in their investigation. By the time she does come into her own, it’s hard not to believe it's just a fluke. Which is such a shame as Lively gives us some great action moments.
Prior to her directorial features, Morano was perhaps best known for her cinematography work (Kill Your Darlings, Frozen River). This eye for framing is definitely notable here; there is a strong visual style that runs throughout the film and one that I haven’t seen before, made up primarily of point-of-view shots, close-ups, and handheld shaky cam. This style is clearly employed to heighten the action and place the audience by the side of Stephanie. In spite of this, the style is so unflinching that it makes the whole experience disorientating. There’s no chance to take in what is happening or have a moment to breathe, which is rather ironic considering how so much of the film emphasises the importance of slowing down and controlling your “rhythm section”.
With plot points delivered so rashly that you're left wondering how you got from point A to point B, such dizzying visuals, as well as questionable narrative and character developments, The Rhythm Section fails to hit the mark despite its stellar cast.
The Rhythm Section is released in UK cinemas on Friday January 31st