Based on the novel by the same name by Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay, THE RHYTHM SECTION is a taut thriller produced by the James Bond franchise producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. They were intrigued by the originality of the main character, Stephanie Patrick, played by Blake Lively.
Three years prior to the beginning of the film, Stephanie’s parents and two siblings were killed in an airplane crash. Thoroughly devastated and unable to cope, she turns to drugs to relieve her pain --- and prostitution to support her habit. An investigative reporter, Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), informs her that the crash was no accident --- the airliner was taken down by a bomb.
Stephanie allows thoughts of revenge to steer her to an ex-MI6 agent, Iain Boyd (Jude Law), whom she presses into training her to become an assassin. Skeptical at first, Boyd prepares her for a mission in Tangier. From that she moves on to others until she has her main target in her sights.
I’ve read that Lively has said this is her most difficult movie to date. I can believe that --- it’s grueling just watching Law put her through her paces. Yikes! Then when she’s actually out there pulling off some of these jobs, the strength of character THE RHYTHM SECTION demands of her is unyielding.
But Lively is definitely up to the task, and I think she’s perfectly cast. In her flashbacks, she looks every bit like the intelligent Oxford student she was, then she manages to do a 180 to become a drugged-out hooker. What is most appealing is her ability to keep from overacting and not losing the audience with an overabundance of machismo. And I find it truly refreshing that Lively gives license to Stephanie to squeal, groan, sigh, etc. when she’s in a tight spot. Men are always so boringly stoic.
In her first attempt at an assassination, she makes the classic mistake of waiting too long to pull the trigger. In other movies, this would be one of my biggest pet peeves, but here it works because she’s a novice --- and her fear and anxiety are palpable. It’s a good moment in the story --- and she does improve.
Sterling K. Brown has a pivotal role as Marc Serra, a former CIA operative, and he’s really just okay. I didn’t find the chemistry between him and Lively at all convincing. She and Law play off one another much better. Law is always interesting --- and great. But this is strictly Lively’s movie to make --- or break. I loved watching her in action.
There are a few problems with the plotline. I guessed who was behind the murderous bombings immediately --- and though I think I’m fairly intelligent --- trust me, it’s not that difficult to figure out. So that was disappointing.
The director, Reed Morano, is the first woman to win both the DGA Award and Emmy for outstanding direction for the pilot of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Her choices of a hand-held camera and long shots may cause some discomfort for viewers --- it is a bit jiggly at times. But she and Director of Photography, Sean Bobbitt (12 YEARS A SLAVE), make some rather challenging decisions like filming inside the car with Lively during one very nerve-wracking car chase.
Other than a few minor irritating details, THE RHYTHM SECTION is a decent diversion. It’s not quite as entertaining as THE GENTLEMEN, but it does make a great case for a female James Bond.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
THE RHYTHM SECTION has nothing to do with music and everything to do with terrorism. Londoner Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) should have been one of 259 passengers and crew on Flight 147 (airline unnamed) that crashes with no survivors. Among the victims are Stephanie’s parents and her two siblings. The only explanation for her absence on that fateful plane is that she “didn’t want to go”.
Fast forward three years and Stephanie, now a prostitute, learns from journalist Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) that the crash was no accident. A bomb had been planted and Proctor knows who made the explosive.
Stephanie soon connects with former MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law) to track down the bomb maker and the mastermind, identified only as U-17. But first Boyd must train Stephanie to become an assassin.
There’s a lot more to the story as Stephanie morphs from a pathetic druggie to a killing machine. THE RHYTHM SECTION stretches credibility akin to some Liam Neeson films. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining. The movie features an exceptional score by Steve Mazzaro (produced by Hans Zimmer) that effectively adds to the tension in many scenes, including a car chase through Tangier that is both exciting and implausible. The scenes with Stephanie and Boyd battering each other --- he’s toughening her up --- also challenge one’s imagination, but hey, it’s a January movie so we’ll go with it.
Lively actually does a credible job in the lead role. When we first meet her character, she has bruises on her body and large bags under her eyes. She’s a mess. But as the film unfolds --- it is well paced and extremely well edited --- Stephanie begins to look like a normal person. And her variety of disguises are interesting.
The most frantic and tension-filled sequence has Stephanie on a crowded bus with the presumed bomb maker and a suicide bomber. It is well conceived by director (Ms.) Reed Morano.
The screenplay by Mark Burnell is based on his own book, and the title is a reference to the brief comment by Boyd when training his protégé to accurately fire a pistol. It has something to do with breathing properly, and it’s a good thing she learns quickly because Boyd soon challenges her to shoot him at close range --- he’s wearing a bullet proof vest.
The other main character is Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown from TV’s “This Is Us” and BLACK PANTHER). He’s an ex-CIA agent representing someone with a lot of money to compensate Stephanie for killing key individuals. He’s not entirely what he appears to be.
THE RHYTHM SECTION moves briskly and is reasonably distracting, so I can recommend it for a slow night at home.
Opinion: Wait for DVD