Review – ‘The Rhythm Section’, A Bland Thriller That Wastes A Strong Blake Lively Performance

Everyone reacts differently to tragedy. Some people use it to motivate them to be better, to do better. Others let it consume them and ruin their lives. Unfortunately for Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), the latter has happened as her life spirals out of control after an airplane crash that kills her entire family in The Rhythm Section. Once a top student at Oxford, Stephanie now finds herself as a drug and alcohol addicted prostitute named Lisa, working for a pimp named Dean West (Daniel Mays) in London. She is emaciated and depressed – seemingly floating through life using any conceivable substance to dull her pain.

When a journalist named Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) approaches Stephanie and tells her that the airplane crash was not an accident, that it was the work of terrorists – Stephanie can’t seem to grasp what he is saying and immediately dismisses it. As more time passes, and with the possible truth eating at her, Stephanie finally draws up the courage to contact Proctor. He brings her into his home and introduces her to a dark and twisted web – and at the center of it is Reza Mohammed (Tawfeek Barhom). Stephanie vows to bring justice to Reza and those responsible for the crash that changed her entire existence.

Stephanie seeks out the help of Iain Boyd (Jude Law), a former MI6 agent that was Proctor’s source who enlightened him to the conspiracy in the first place. Boyd agrees to train Stephanie – not only physically with running, swimming, and shooting practice – but he teaches her how to control her emotions and use her wits in any situation. Boyd lets her know that the conspiracy goes even deeper than she thought, and that Reza is only a pawn. Before long, Boyd thinks Stephanie is ready – and with a new identity and her training behind her, he throws her to the wolves. Stephanie meets with Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown) – a philanthropist who also has connections to the dark world that Stephanie is trying to infiltrate. Stephanie will do whatever is necessary to complete her quest of justice for her family, no matter where she must go or who stands in her way.  

The Rhythm Section is based on the novel by Mark Burnell who also pens the screenplay and is directed by Reed Morano. Morano weaves scenes of Stephanie interacting with her parents before the crash into the narrative to keep reminding the audience of Stephanie’s humanity and what is driving her. Morano does not have much film experience – most of her prior directing has been for television shows. Some of this inexperience shows as The Rhythm Section muddles along. The film can be incredibly stale at times not to mention hard to follow. Having read the book, I had some background to go from – and with Burnell being involved in such a large capacity, I really expected more – but the film goes off the rails several times.

Lively provides us with a solid performance, but it is not enough to save The Rhythm Section. Along with her impressive acting, Lively’s physical transformation in the film is shocking. She looks almost unrecognizable as Stephanie when she is at rock bottom. With so many talented actors involved, and a well-received book as the premise – I had big hopes for the film and for a possible universe to be built around the characters. Instead we get a poor man’s Jason Bourne, and even that might be a bit generous. Numerous character’s motives are unclear – and not because of deception or espionage, they just don’t make sense. The narrative isn’t smooth, and the film seems to jump around all over the place. 

Lively’s performance aside, there were some other redeeming qualities. The main one being a big car chase that shifts from close-up shots of Stephanie to point of view, putting the audience in the driver’s seat (pun intended). This chase was a blast and really makes you feel like you are racing through city streets. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of this overall bland and cliché thriller. There was a lot of wasted potential here, and I think if they could call mulligan and take another shot at this one, The Rhythm Section and the audience would be better off for it.

2 out of 5