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Friday, January 31, 2020

The Rhythm Section

In The Rhythm Section, Blake Lively becomes the latest actress to deglamorize herself in order to play the role of a hardened killer and action heroine.  Lively is clearly giving it her all, and apparently suffered an injury during the shoot that delayed the production.  She even pulls off a strong British accent here.  But when you look at the film itself, you have to wonder if it was all worth it.  For all of Lively's efforts, this ends up being a passionless and deadly dull attempt at a thriller.

Outside of the lead performance, there is absolutely nothing that stands out here, so the movie quickly becomes about an interesting portrayal of a potentially interesting character in search of a narrative that's worthy of it.  Lively plays Stephanie Patrick, who has already appeared in four bestselling books by author Mark Burnell.  In adapting the first of the books to the screen, Burnell seems to have no idea of how a film should be paced.  His screenplay lingers too long on moments where not a whole lot happens, and he doesn't create any strong relationships between his characters.  He also doesn't dig nearly far enough when it comes to making Stephanie a screen character we can latch ourselves to.  We are supposed to be watching her transformation from an Oxford student, to a depressed junkie who has given up on life, and ultimately into a deadly assassin.  But the way it is written here, it's all perfunctory.  We know we're supposed to feel something, but we never do.

We witness in flashbacks how Stephanie lost her entire family in a plane crash a few years ago.  This caused her to fall into a depression, give up on her dreams, and start prostituting herself so that she could pay her drug habit.  On the brink of total self-annihilation, Stephanie meets a reporter (Raza Jeffrey) who tells her he's been investigating the plane crash, and has come to believe that it was not an accident.  There was a bomb on board, and he thinks he knows who planted it.  Now, all Stephanie wants is revenge, but she's clearly in no shape or position to fight back like she wants.  And when the reporter turns up dead after Stephanie starts snooping around on her own, she knows she's not safe, so she decides to track down a former MI6 agent named Iain Boyd (Jude Law) to train her how to kill.

Any hopes that The Rhythm Section might dig deep into Stephanie's psyche and perhaps explore her complex feelings about everything going on flies right out the window, as the movie quickly takes on a rather generic and overly sluggish tone and pace.  I found myself admiring the portrayal Lively was giving, as well as her physical appearance, which is appropriately weathered and worn.  But I didn't find myself invested in the character she was playing, because the movie keeps her at such a distance.  We don't get a sense of who she is, what she thinks of anything, or her thoughts on what is happening to her.  What does she feel about leaving her old life behind?  Does she find it hard to take lives, even if these people are tied with terrorists?  We do get to see how she struggles with her training and trying to get herself into fighting shape, but we never really understand what she really thinks about all of this.  The movie just pushes through the training, goes right to the killing, and then pretty much stops once all the targets are dead.

It's also not in any hurry to get to where it's going.  It takes well past an hour of screen time before she's ready to go after her first target.  I wasn't exactly wishing that the movie would race through its narrative, but at the same time, it's not substantial enough in characters or emotion to justify its leisurely pacing.  We also never get a real sense of these characters or their relationships.  Aside from giving Stephanie some advice on controlling her heart rate and breathing when she's aiming a gun, Law's character never really shares any significant moments with her, which makes their working relationship kind of a mystery.  He's brash and sarcastic with her, especially early on, but we never get the sense from him that he sees much potential.  If that's true, then why does he invest so much time into her?

The Rhythm Section was produced by some of the same people behind the James Bond franchise, who clearly hoped that they could have another series on their hands, with sequels to come.  Unfortunately, the movie stumbles right out of the gate by giving the audience nothing to be invested in.  I support what Lively is trying to do with her performance, but the movie has done her no favors.

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