“The Rhythm Section” Can’t Consistently Keep The Beat


Reed Morano and Blake Lively are a potent combination of filmmaker and star. Pairing them for an emotional mix of action and drama, based on a series of popular thriller novels? Well, that should be a recipe for great success. Well, it’s not quite that simple. Parts of The Rhythm Section, opening this week, are very well done. Morano’s direction and Lively’s performance are spot on (more later). However, with a middling screenplay and some puzzle stylistic choices, this film winds up being very much a mixed bag. The highs are quite good, especially for a January release, while the lows remind you why Paramount decided to put this one out in the month that they did.

The movie is a revenge thriller, told through the prism of grief. Stephanie Patrick (Lively) has seen her life fall apart in the years since her entire family was killed in a plane crash. Going from a top medical school student to a junkie and a prostitute, she barely exists. Then, one day a journalist named Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) pays for her time, claiming he has information that the crash wasn’t an accident, but a terrorist bombing. Wracked with grief, Stephanie decides to look at his evidence, eventually trying to kill the bomb maker (Tawfeek Barhom) on her own. All that does is spook the man, causing even more chaos. Not sure where to go, Stephanie pursue’s Proctor’s source, a former MI6 agent (Jude Law), seeking training to take down the terror cell. Skeptical and dismissive, he eventually comes around and trains her, sending her off on training missions, then ones put forward by a former CIA operative (Sterling K. Brown) she begins getting closer to, all in the service of getting closer to the people behind the attack, which has long been covered up. Morano directs a script by Mark Burnell, based on his own book. Supporting players include Richard Brake, Max Casella, and more. Steve Mazzaro, while the cinematography is by Sean Bobbitt.

Reed Morano deserves to get a crack at a franchise, if she’s interested (this is produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of the James Bond series, so maybe they were scouting her?). This flick proves that. Even with a higher budget, her directing prowess remains fully intact. Now, not every choice works, as the pacing is wildly inconsistent, while the song choices that are dropped in are all wrong. However, her visuals, as well as the lead performance she gets from Blake Lively, are quite good. They take the material far more seriously than it deserves, but their dedication is palpable. The former gives everything the look of an independent work, where her background is, while the latter de-glams and puts herself through some intense stunts. The accent she’s given and the wigs she’s constantly changing into aren’t as successful, but her performance is still one of the film’s selling points.

The Rhythm Section mainly fails due to its dodgy screenplay. Mark Burnell, adapting his own novel, is unable to transfer the core elements of the story to the big screen. Burnell never gives Morano the moments necessary to fully invest you in Lively’s character, so it’s just her performance that’s doing the work. The script rushes through so many critical events and drags through far less essential ones, obfuscating the narrative in a way that the movie just can’t recover from. A writer more detached from the material or experienced in the art of adaptation probably was necessary here. Strong cinematography can mask some issues, but it’s still a case of putting lipstick on a pig, unfortunately.

This weekend, fans of this sort of cinema will probably not be too disappointed with what The Rhythm Section offers up. However, the film hints at being so much better that it’s hard not to feel like this is a letdown. There isn’t enough consistency here on the part of the writing, ultimately failing Lively and especially Morano, who clearly has designs on something serious here. She deserves another crack at a spy flick, though hopefully it’s one with a different tone, or at least better execution on the scripting level, than this one…


The Rhythm Section hits theaters on Friday.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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