As Blake Lively transitions to serious roles, it seemed likely she would take a stab at an actioner. With husband Ryan Reynolds doing action as far back as 2003 (starting with Blade: Trinity), that only ups the “hold my beer” factor for 32-year-old actress.
The Rhythm Section is that action-drama; Lively stars as a woman who learns that the death of her entire family due to a crashed airliner was not an accident. As Stephanie Patrick, she trains with a former spy and then assumes the identity of an assassin in order to exact revenge on all responsible parties.
Rhythm was written by Mark Burnell and was adapted from Burnell's novel of the same name. Reed Morano, who began as a cinematographer (and won a directing Emmy for her work on The Handmaid's Tale), directed and was produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. The film co-stars Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown.
Based on the trailers, The Rhythm Section looks like a straight actioner, but it's really an action-drama (so there isn't as much action as one might expect). The emphasis is on the drama, specifically the pain and hurt Stephanie's endured since her father, mother and two siblings all died with hundreds of others on an airline flight over the Atlantic. That means Stephanie's neither a spy nor a killer – which means The Rhythm Section is unlike 2018's Peppermint and 2017's Atomic Blonde.
Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), a freelance journalist, finds Stephanie living and working in a run-down London brothel, to give her the truth about her family and that flight. He takes her in and feeds her more information about the people who downed the plane and she ends up training as an assassin with Iain Boyd (Law). The only thing on Stephanie's mind is revenge but she clearly doesn't realize what she's gotten herself into.
Law has become the actor to partner with females to aid them in their heroic ways. He partnered with Melissa McCarthy in 2015's Spy and then was a mentor to Brie Larson in 2019's Captain Marvel. Here, Law's Iain is unlikeable, although he's as such because of the danger attached to his line of work. It's Law's character who refers to the film's title, which sounds cool when you hear it. Then you realize it's maybe the only cool thing in Rhythm. Regardless, Law is fine but he looked bored… fitting.
I'm not sure how Sterling K. Brown ended up here, but his former CIA agent turned intel dealer is a waste. Even if you're not paying attention you know something's up with Mark Serra (Brown) the moment he appears. Brown is normally exceptional but he's not immune to a poorly written and predictable character.
The most relatable aspect of Rhythm is Stephanie's incompetence as an assassin. It adds grit and realism since a novice would likely be hesitant and clumsy (normally audiences are exposed to protagonists who are highly-trained, proficient and emotionless). Stephanie, with all her hate and pain, acts purely on emotion and those emotions add to the messiness of this revenge mission. Lively's performance is memorable, though; she portrays Stephanie as someone with little to live who's ready to die to get her revenge.
Unfortunately, her performance will go unnoticed because the script is terrible. The story of a young woman seeking to avenge her family's deaths is compelling, albeit unoriginal, but many of the story choices are garden variety and lack imagination. Even with Lively's performance, it's difficult to care about anyone because the mood is cold and muted. In addition, Rhythm's pacing is slower than a musician playing drums without sticks. Combining that with, three (maybe four), action scenes make for a boring movie with pacing issues and little emotional depth.
Ultimately, The Rhythm Section is an action-drama with little action and less drama. Lively is good and proves she can handle mature roles, but it's all for not since everything in this production is lackluster and predictable. Director Reed Morano offered too much gloom without pretext and her decision to go with a grainy look actually leaves audiences detached. Simply put, it's a forgettable film despite its memorable cast.
1.5 stars out of 5