Based on the book of the same name, The Rhythm Section is billed as an “action drama”, although I’m certain that genre designation was tacked-on after the movie’s first screening. Given the plot (a woman whose family is killed in a plane crash sets out to kill the terrorist responsible) this was most likely intended to be an action thriller but because the resulting action and thrills are so muted and subdued, this sub-genre was assigned. I’m not one to demarcate the action genre but this is definitely not how you make an “action drama”. Directed by Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale) and produced by Barbara Broccoli (the James Bond franchise) this should have resulted in a better film. Since I haven’t watched one and I’m not a fan of the other, I didn’t have any expectations but the film-makers still managed to disappoint me.
The Rhythm Section stars Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick, the mourning hero, Jude Law as Iain Boyd, an ex-spy who takes her under his wing and Sterling K. Brown as Marc Serra, a financier of terrorism. These actors are all generally good at their job; I liked Lively’s performance in The Town for example but here she’s not playing someone entirely believable. Given that retribution is the central premise of this film, it doesn’t really explore the obsession, pain, and heartache associated with revenge. After her mum, dad, brother, and sister’s death, Stephanie Patrick, a female Oxford student turns to drugs and prostitution, and for me this isn’t quite believable. Firstly, did she have no other relatives at all? Aunts, uncles, cousins, grand parents to get some solace from? Apparently not. Just get yourself onto AdultWork love and here’s some heroin! WTF. Either kill yourself, live with it, or get revenge. And if you’re “going on a journey” whether spiritual or literal, the main thing in a fictional story is to make that journey plausible.
The writing is therefore the main problem with The Rhythm Section. Apparently training someone to be an assassin involves running a bit, swimming a lot, shooting a bit, and eating porridge in Scotland for several months. Voila! You’re an assassin (or maybe not since Stephanie bungles a couple of missions and is almost killed by a disabled blind man). The wig that Blake Lively wears for the first act of the film looks like the mankiest mop found in the dingiest den. It doesn’t look real at all. Then when her character has to wear actual wigs, they look more convincing than the supposed real hair. This isn’t therefore, one of the Bourne films or a Luc Besson flick; it’s not gritty and it’s not stylised. It’s just dull.
The plot (along with the plot holes) is about as believable as Lively’s wig and accent which travels more between Britain and the United States than the film itself. The ineptitude of Stephanie’s assassination missions could be seen as sexist or just more bad writing. The fact that we the audience, never believe a drug-addict could go though an elite assassin training programme in less than eight months, only for that to be confirmed by botched assassination after botched assassination, there’s not much peril or surprise here.
There’s a scene on a bus with two terrorists and the hero onboard and the detonator doesn’t work. After a crap scuffle, we then discover there is no detonator, the bomb is on a timer, which begs the question: why is there one, let alone two terrorists in the bloomin’ vehicle in the first place? And why after discovering this change of trigger would a Jihadi bride be so embittered that she sides with the infidel? Whether it’s a keyfob, phone, or timer, surely the main aim is to kill everybody not get pissed with your cell’s leader and let the fictional protagonist go so she can save the day.
Terrorists are of course “evil” in this film but when an ex-MI6/MI5 agent kills someone’s children, it’s just something he’ll “have to live with”… that’s not terrorism at all. The film therefore, walks down the contrived path of standard Hollywood opinions regarding Islam and terror. There’s a quick quip about a target who could easily “get shot coming out of Harrods” – something that white prats always bring up when speaking about Arabs – how dare the Qatar Investment Authority own a British department store! The rich Arab stereotype is also brought up in regards to the other victims of the plane crash. There’s a wealthy Middle Eastern couple (who of course aren’t as “hard-lined” in their beliefs as the actual terrorists but because they’re Muslim the man talks down to his wife) who have enough money to pay for a hit on the man responsible for killing their relatives.
So who will our hero have to kill? Who is the mysterious “U17” that Iain Boyd tells Stephanie Patrick about? Is Reza the bomb-maker the only person Stephanie has to kill? Well, in case you haven’t already guessed it SPOILER ALERT the black guy did it! All this isn’t as offensive as some of the stuff Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow or even Michael Bay are capable of but The Rhythm Section still skates a line of Islamophobia and racist Hollywood cliches whilst just managing to stay on the liberal side of it all. This isn’t as unpleasant as London Has Fallen for example, but for all its wannabe equality and pathos, it still ends up just as shite. The fact that the writer of the novel on which this garbage is based on is also the script writer, you can’t even use the old adage “stick to your day job” because Mark Burnell doesn’t seem to be that good at either his day or night shift.
The title incidentally, refers to something said by Boyd to Patrick during her training; “Think of your heart as the drums, your breathing as the bass”, but surely it should be “heartbeat and breathing” or “heart and lungs”. Piss-poor writing is the least of this film’s worries however, because the script is then shot in such a way that you almost don’t realise how mediocre the screenplay is.
Aside from the lacklustre writing, the direction and overall visual aesthetic is completely at odds with the genre. The main issue is that the camera is never steady, almost like the cameraperson is drunk (or dizzy – probably from all the moving around). There’s a car chase in which the camera moves from driver to rear window to front window and back again, spinning around and missing most of the action and therefore giving the audience nausea and a headache rather than any sense of thrill. There’s also a shoot-out in a corridor but the end of the corridor where the target stands is out of focus. With the camera looking at the driver and the shooter in each scene (which of course is Blake Lively) you wonder if the director has a thing for the lead since she’s constantly focusing on her and her alone, or whether she’s just a crap director. Whatever the reason, The Rhythm Section ends up looking like a shit art house spy film. My recommendation is save your money: just look down, spin around in a circle, wait until you’re light-headed and watch La Femme Nikita. Then as the credits roll, play Sleigh Bells’ “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”.
Even as you wander around giddy, zigzagging your lounge and knocking the TV off its bracket, that’ll be a better experience than watching this trash. From the directing to the writing, The Rhythm Section is…