Synopsis – A woman seeks revenge against those who orchestrated a plane crash that killed her family.
My Take – By now, despite its excellent credentials, this film adaption directed Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale) and co-produced by Barbara Broccoli‘s EON Productions, the production house behind the James Bond series, is mainly known for having the worst opening weekend of all time for a film that was screened at 3,000 cinemas, and ended up earning just $5.9 million against a budget of $50 million, making it a box office bomb for its distributor, Paramount Studios.
On surface, the film based on a series of books from author Mark Burnell has everything going for it. A supposed addition to the fine tradition of tales in which an everyday average Joe is pushed past their breaking point, but with spy origin twist.
Like a Bond film it’s set in exotic locations, and has Blake Lively in a serious meaty role with an upcoming director, who’s made her career in stylish TV shows like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ and ‘Billions’, and a genre that’s crying out for new perspectives. But most importantly, an aim to kick off a successful woman-led spy franchise that can sustain multiple sequels.
Unfortunately along with the fact that Lively is sorely miscast, this supposed female Bond isn’t really good at anything other than looking sad. Sure, compared to something like ‘Atomic Blonde’, there’s something much different going on, but it’s not helped by the fact that it sails on a humdrum script and plot, making it one of the most boring, predictable, and pointless films I have seen in recent years, despite much effort from the production crew.
The story follows Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), a former Oxford student, who following the loss of her family in a plane crash, out of survivor’s guilt, has sunk herself into drugs and prostitution. That is until Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), a freelance journalist, gets in touch with her and informs her that the plane crash wasn’t an accident, but part of a terrorist plot, that has been covered by the government. With a source deep inside the Intelligence community, Keith seeks Stephanie’s help to expose Reza (Tawfeek Barhom), the bomb maker who attends a university in London, and to whomever he is tied to.
But when a restless action from Stephanie spooks Reza, and puts a target on her back, she tracks down Reza’s source, Iain Boyd (Jude Law), a former MI6 agent to help her finish Reza’s work. While Boyd is reluctant at first, he is successfully persuaded to train Stephanie enough to take on the identity of an assassin, who’s been presumed dead, to infiltrate the world of intelligence traders like Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown), a rogue ex-CIA agent, in order to exact her revenge on U-17, the terrorist mastermind behind her family’s death.
The film uses the idea of the time-keeping percussion of a song as its gimmick to set it apart from every other revenge thriller out there. “Think of your heart as the drums, you’re breathing as the bass,” Blake Lively‘s Stephanie Patrick intones over the film’s intro. The motif is cheesy, but fresh and apart from one more mention early in the story, it’s never heard from again. Sadly, the film’s plotting is far too clumsy and clunky to be helped, and doesn’t always hit the mark where it should. Worse, it does nothing that other films haven’t done better.
The female-assassin trope is well-trodden, and in recent years, the likes of ‘Killing Eve’ have given it a fresh perspective. This film has that behind and in front of the camera, but on the page and in the script, it’s sadly a letdown. The script, also written by Burnell, gives us no sense of who Stephanie was prior to her family’s deaths, apart from having had longer hair and been a top student at Oxford.
Unhelpfully, she doesn’t have much of a personality following the tragedy, either: Her sole trait is trauma. She falls into drugs and prostitution before being spurred to get revenge, which another character describes as a cliché, as if acknowledging it would make it acceptable.
A sharper script would have made more of Stephanie’s lack of experience. The amateur avenger could easily be played by the various spy-war veterans she meets, but her feelings seldom lead her off course. The film also suggests that when an action hero regulates her heart and lungs, she boosts her brain into overdrive. That’s a dubious premise for a film that’s not exactly smart.
Even the smaller pleasures like the range of wigs Lively has to wear as her nascent assassin career takes her around the globe, are short-lived, and the film’s choice to drop in pop and rock music cues only add to that sense of incoherence.
However, the self-seriousness with which director Morano tackles the film serves the action sequences well; Stephanie’s fights are genuinely harrowing and anxiety-inducing to watch as rattling close-ups create a sense of claustrophobia. But, that tone clashes with the silliness of Stephanie ’s supposed mantra, which almost seems like a parody of such lines from other action films, making the black holes where characters should be all the more evident.
On the acting front, despite being miscast, Blake Lively does a fantastic job with the abysmal script she has to work with. She powers through the wooden lines, the emotional scenes, and the action scenes, and comes out on top. In supporting roles, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown and Raza Jaffrey don’t have much to do here, but well, provide support to Lively, which they manage to do well. Tawfeek Barhom is alright as the typically numb minded Islamic terrorist. On the whole, ‘The Rhythm Section’ is a weak spy action thriller that is stunningly and incompetently spiritless.
Directed – Reed Morano
Rated – 109 minutes
Run Time – R