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‘The Rhythm Section’ is a dull and off-key composition

‘The Rhythm Section’ is a dull and off-key composition

‘The Rhythm Section’ is a dull and off-key composition
February 04
16:00 2020

“I’m going to say this once. Even if you succeed, it won’t be worth it.”

Stephanie Patrick’s (Blake Lively) family was killed in a flight accident over the Atlantic. After three years of self-destruction and addiction, she’s told it was part of a terrorist plan. To get her revenge, she’ll push herself to the breaking point and embark on a journey that will leave a bloody path of destruction in her wake . . .

There didn’t seem to be anything unique about this new take on the “person is plucked to become a deadly spy to kill the terries” story other than Blake Lively adopting a British accent, looking like a murder hobo from “Watch Dogs” and the previews making it look like they’d expanded the training scenes from “Batman Begins” into a full movie.

Not a bad idea.

Unfortunately, the movie is pretty mediocre. I would say, though, that it is as mediocre as Lively is great.

And she’s great here! Lively has always been an underused talent, having shined in the fantastic thriller “A Simple Favor” and “The Age of Adaline.” There’s a taut sense of realism to her performance — she’s as disturbed by the violent and intense situations as we are and she really does feel like an everyday woman who has just been dropped into a world where only the quick-witted and lethal survive. Her performance had my sympathy and I was able to root for her even when her incompetence in combat started to jab at me.

This extends to the action sequences, where her character’s incompetence often adds tension to the situation and gives the opposition a real sense of menace. There’s also an incredible car chase that’s one long tracking shot from the passenger seat as she’s relentlessly pursued by a pair of experienced killers. To say I was on the edge of my seat is a cliché, but my jaw went to the floor at the coherent chaos on the screen.

As for the supporting cast, Jude Law here is essentially his “Captain Marvel” character meets Liam Neeson from “Batman Begins.” He gets some good lines, some good quips and I bought him as a hardened intel operation who knew his way around the underworld.

Acting is good and the action is serviceable, and yet these can’t save the movie.

While the action is competent and the car chase outstanding, shaky cam is used now and then to try to make the audience as confused as the characters, but it got in the way of many scenes. Now, I’ve never had a problem with shaky cam, but I thought we were past it with the rise of “Fury Road,” “John Wick” and many more outstanding movies. Also, quick cuts are sometimes used in the close-quarters combat scenes, obscuring some of the martial arts on display, even if it’s mostly unscathed.

Another note to the action is while Patrick’s inexperience during the killings is appreciable and indicative of her hesitations, the movie seems to forget about the combat training and advice she receives. As a result, what should be sympathy for her predicament can devolve into annoyed comments about how she could have easily gone for the eyes or groin. At a certain point, I have to believe she can survive this through her own skills, y’know?

While the supporting cast is stellar, they don’t really get much in the way of screentime or development. Not very many supporting characters are there besides Law and Sterling K. Brown, and they don’t really do anything but serve as hollow shells who get Lively from one scene to the next, be it giving her information or serving as quarry or obstacles.

Then there’s the pacing. The movie’s only around 110 minutes, yet it feels like its 150. I appreciate the hell out of slow burners, — my second favorite sequel of all time is “Blade Runner 2049” and my favorite film of 2019 was “The Lighthouse“) — but the plot feels a bit thin even in that small amount of time. What should be a compact little thriller drags incessantly at different points over the course of the film, and I found myself checking out near the end.

This pacing also damages the character development. After a while, she inexplicably levels in confidence and combat points in a rushed manner. I know that sounds like a contradiction to what I said earlier, but it feels like certain beats to her character were skipped over.

What makes the inconsistent character development noticeable is there seems to be a good amount of content that was cut from the movie — the trailers feature more scenes with a character who’s only a one-off in the final product and a successful assassination that seems to have happened late into the story. Whether or not they simply slowed down a movie that was character-driven is up for question, but it feels there’s definitely some stuff that could’ve been kept in.

“The Rhythm Section,” despite some high notes, is an ultimately dull thriller.  Tedium and wasted potential are what this movie plays to. If you want a good lady-led spy thriller, try “Atomic Blonde” with Charlize Theron, “Haywire” with Gina Carano or even the last two “Mission Impossible” movies with Rebecca Ferguson.

Final rating: 2/5

Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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