The life of someone who lives under faked identities in order to bring a swift demise to unsuspecting wrong-doers must be insanely stressful, as spiralling toward your prey with the eyes in the back of your head locked open at all times can only fuck with your head incessantly. Or would it? What is your reason for doing it is the righteous anger over the death of a loved one? Whatever the reason, we can all agree that nothing would be what it seems. Produced by Barbara Brocolli and Michael G. Wilson, The Rhythm Section comes with some impressive spy movie credentials. After all the duo who’ve been in charge of Bond’s adventures since Brosnan put on the tux are behind this stripped down, emotionally raw tale of agents, emotional turmoil and revenge that also contains a transformative central performance by a ravaged looking Blake Lively. Since they’ve steered Daniel Craig (mostly) right in making Bond a fractured, vunerable character to the tune of billions of dollars, surely this relatively low budget production should be both thrilling and thought provoking in equal measure.
Yeah… Remember what I said earlier about things not being what they seem?
After her loving family perished in a plane crash, Stephanie Patrick’s life has spectacularly gone down the tubes. Racked by self detructive depression, addicted to drugs and making her way through life as an emotionally and physically scarred prostitute Stephanie is visited one day by a reporter who drops a bomb on her that changes everything she thought she knew with the news that the explosion that brought down the plane was actually a bomb to take out someone else on the flight and everyone else was merely planned collateral damage.
Leaving the whore house where she lives she stays with the reporter with the intention of tipping him off but when it seems that this conspiracy is getting back to her with lethal consequences, she flees to Scotland looking for the journalist’s mysterious contact.
Who she finds is Iain Boyd, former member of the CIA (Jude Law ressurecting his asshole routine from Captain Marvel) who eventually agrees to train her from scratch by basically treating her like pond scum and after months of stomach punching and running until she puked, he sends her out to track her prey and she gets to work by immediately getting a hairdo reminiscent of Robert Smith from The Cure.
But is she ready to be a (very) blunt instrument in the field where she’ll be indulging in escapades that definitely end with SOMEone being dead, or can she focus her mind and nerves to remain icily calm? In other words: can she get her Rhythm Section under control?
If it’s extremely important for a person deep in the world of espionage to blend in and become virtually invisible while standing in plain sight then it’s fair to say that The Rhythm Section is a stunningly accurate portrayal – unfortunately what I mean by this is that the film in it’s entirety is extraordinarily unmemorable and seems to be going completely unnoticed during it’s theatrical run.
Sort of what you’d get if you took Luc Besson’s Nikita and replaced all the rampant style and neon lighting with abject depression and shitty hair, The Rhythm Section could hardly be described as original, as everything from Hannah to American Assasin has used the template of a normal person trained in spy shit to claim some sort of personal gain by the extermination of various smug terrorist types before. Predictably, this movie is not that much different but if anything sets the it apart from it’s peers it’ll be the sheer amount of abject misery the main character goes through.
Here would be a good place to single out Blake Lively, an actress whose role choices of late have been impressively full on. Starting the film peppered with enough needle marks, cold sores and pimples to spell out the entirety of War & Peace in braille, Lively’s dedication to the role can’t be faulted as the film requires her to absorb an eyebrow raising amount of indignities ranging from swimming through a lake in the dead of winter with barely any clothes on to having various amounts of crap being kicked out of her by a number of assailants. However, the film is so preoccupied with heaping on the pain, you never really get what sort of person Stephanie was before the “accident” aside from brief wordless flashbacks and the occasional family photograph which merely label her to the audience as “generically happy”
Another major issue is that the film seems to have absolutely no ramifications that it wants to stick with and breezes past some major plot issues with minor detail. For example, when a hit goes wrong and Stephanie can’t go through with it only to find that a handy car bomb rigged by Iain finishing the job, we find out the sickening news that other, innocent members of the target’s family were on board. Cue shocked face, gradual acceptance – aaaand then we move onto the next scene without another mention of it ever again.
Treating a spy movie as a slow burn is never a bad thing (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy moved as fast as a migrating sponge but was still gripping) but despite Lively’s determination, we never truly connect with the desperation of Stephanie to get the job done at any cost despite the actress being admirably dragged through the wringer and in summation, this particular Rhythm Section is missing the beat.