Tragedy, sorrow, opportunity, training, and revenge. This is the recipe for any average Joe or Jane turned killer in search of revenge movie. Directed by Emmy Award-winning Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale) and written by Mark Burnell, The Rhythm Section is based on Burnell’s novel of the same name. The Rhythm Section follows Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick, a woman who lost her family during a tragic plane crash deemed an accident. Patrick learns that the flight she was supposed to be on was a planned attack against one individual and that her family was collateral damage. With the assistance of Iain Boyd (Jude Law), Patrick looks to learn how to take revenge on those involved in the bombing.
The Rhythm Section opens with a dejected Patrick reminiscing about her lost family. The memories are filled with warm moments of quality time which is in stark contrast to how Patrick’s life has played out over the last three years. She is working as a sex worker in London and has fallen into addiction. One evening she is approached by Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffery), a reporter investigating the incident that claimed the life of her family and over 200 other passengers. Proctor informs Patrick about his believed conspiracy that links the plane crash to a terrorist bombing. Rezza (Tawfeek Barhom) one of the men responsible still walks the streets of London. He wants Patrick to help him with the story but in a tactful manner as to not cause an international incident.
Through her stupor, Patrick is able to use her Oxford education to piece together all of the information Proctor has gathered to find Rezza. She hopes to act to take her revenge while Proctor is content to wait until the truth is ready to be revealed. After a botched assassination attempt, Patrick has to find Proctor’s contact, Iain Boyd, to finish what she started. Patrick now has to learn how to develop the skills necessary to properly eliminate the individuals who took her family from her.
The pacing of The Rhythm Section moves steadily as the true plot of the flight bombing unfolds into a bigger and bigger national incident and Lively’s performance lends well to it all. We see her go from an addict to a half-way capable spy but not in a way that will leave audiences in disbelief. Patrick has been through much over the last few years and has nothing to lose. This makes her singularly focused on whatever Boyd has to teach. Patrick does not go from addict to John Wick or Beatrix Kiddo over the span of months of training. She makes mistakes, hesitates, and doubts herself but ultimately she will not quit.
In all, this is Lively’s movie and her and Law’s chemistry translates well from the trailer to the film. Their roles in the relationship are clear even if it isn’t evident at the start on why Boyd would help a woman with no discernible skills for violence. Some of Boyd’s teachings give off the Mr. Miiyagi vibe while others are certainly more brutal and in the realm of Kill Bill’s Pai Mei. There are various characters that pop up throughout the movie but through it all the focus stays on Patrick. Many of the shots, ranging from the flashbacks to action sequences, are done largely from her perspective putting the audience firmly with her throughout her journey.
Where The Rhythm Section falls off for me is in the third act. Much of the film looks to subvert the tropes of a relative nobody all of a sudden learning how to fight and shoot as effectively trained CIA and Mi6 agents. Patrick does not execute any of her early assignments perfectly despite her confidence, causing more problems. However, all of a sudden, she becomes more capable than others around her, out performing the spy whose place she is taking. Caution and spy tactics that Boyd taught go out the window as Patrick is seemingly is able to be involved in large action set pieces without any authorities batting an eye. It is very jarring given what all that comes before it.
I want to chalk her ability in the third act up to her Oxford education that is only mentioned briefly during an early conversation with Proctor. However, the line can be easily missed but more importantly it takes away her missteps later in the mission that really raise the stakes of the film. I believe the awkward third act may have more to do with production being halted for six months due to Blake Lively injuring her hand which led to the release of the film being pushed from February 22, 2019 to November 22, 2019 and now to January 31, 2020 because of the issues.
Ultimately, I do not think the positives outweigh the disappointment of the third act. The music is beautifully done by Hans Zimmer, and many of the set pieces and the cinematography are beautiful given much of the filming being done in Dublin, Ireland and Spain. Patrick is even a sympathetic character who grows into a spy relatively believably. However, the third of act leaves me wanting to see her fail more and deal with the consequences. You blink, the consequences don’t matter, and the film is over leaving me wondering what the movie could have been if not for the issues with production.
I came into the movie hoping that I wouldn’t get the stereotypical revenge movie. For much of it, that is what The Rhythm Section provides. In the end, the film falls into the same tropes it was trying to subvert. If you are looking for a movie to watch this weekend, I would pass on The Rhythm Section and wait for the eventual release on a streaming service like other EON Productions works.
The Rhythm Section is available in theaters nationwide on January 31, 2020.
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