THE RHYTHM SECTION is a cool fucking title when you realize what it means. As explained in the very first line of narration, it’s a piece of advice about how to stay calm while firing a gun or fighting: think of your heart as the drums, your breathing as the bass. But that’s hard to explain in a commercial, which is probly part of why there were like six people in the theater when I saw it.
Everybody else’s loss. It’s pretty good. Not at all original, but a solid meat and potatoes type of story giving a good showcase to Blake Lively, whose knockout turn in the pretty good A SIMPLE FAVOR I honestly thought should’ve gotten her an Oscar nomination. Now I pay more attention to her movies, especially if she’s playing a woman getting her Remo Williams training for badass revenge purposes.
She plays Stephanie Patrick, a drug addicted prostitute. Only three years ago Stephanie was studying at Oxford (yes, Lively does an English accent, which was only distracting for about five seconds), but her life became a mess after her entire family was killed in a plane crash. Then one day she gets this john who tells her he’s not there to have sex, he’s a journalist who has tracked her down because he has proof that the plane crash was not an accident, it was an act of terrorism that was covered up.
This gives her the fire to grab her things, literally run away from the brothel and rebuild herself. The journalist gets murdered, but she uses his clues to track down a mysterious ex-MI6 or CIA type guy only called B (Jude Law, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD) who lives on a small farm in the middle of nowhere. She convinces him to become her mentor, teaching her how to shoot, how to fight, how to infiltrate. He’s a tough love teacher – he respects her and treats her goal seriously enough to not be nice or gentle about any of it. When she’s maybe-possibly-arguably-ready he helps her figure out all the people connected to the bombing and sets her up to impersonate a dead assassin as a way to get close enough to kill them. But she disagrees with some of his methods and ends up figuring things out on her own.
The action is closer to the Paul Greengrass in-the-thick-of-it tradition than the good shit I prefer, but I think it works – there’s a dizziness, especially in a car chase and shoot out, that captures her disorientation and fear without making it entirely indecipherable.
B doesn’t think it makes sense to teach her to fight, but she pushes him to until he’s just pummeling her in the living room and she’s struggling to fight back – sloppy, ugly, animalistic self defense. She really has to work hard and take some damage for every win she gets. As far as the “realistic” approaches to action go, these fights are very effective.
Oh shit – I just read that Lively shattered her hand filming that scene, and they had to suspend production for six months while she got surgery, healed incorrectly, and got more surgery. I guess that’s why in the movie she gets her hand really messed up, having to pull a bunch of glass shards out of her palm and then wrapping it.
The supporting cast includes Sterling K. Brown, who I thought was brilliant as Christopher Dardenne in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, and Max Casella from Doogie Howser, but I didn’t recognize him.
This is a minor complaint, but I don’t agree with the decision to open with a flash-forward to Stephanie holding a gun to the head of her first kill, played by master of wiry sliminess Richard Brake (DEATH MACHINE, BATMAN BEGINS, MUNICH, HALLOWEEN II, THE COUNSELOR, MANDY, 3 FROM HELL). I think the thrill of the movie comes from watching Stephanie transform from tired, achy junkie in a baggy, bedazzled parrot sweatshirt to fiercely self-assured killing machine flying around the world, putting on disguises, deceiving people, taking on experienced killers who know a million things she doesn’t. I think it would be better to frame it as a Bad News Bears “I don’t know, can she ever pull herself together enough to do this?” approach than a “This assassin wasn’t always an assassin – here’s how it all began!” one.
Also, the resolution is a little abrupt, but that’s better than being too drawn out. It’s a dark, gloomy movie, but strings out enough little bits of sunshine, ironically upbeat needle drops and badass lines to keep it from being totally depressing.
The end leaves open the possibility for Stephanie to have more adventures, which was probly the intention, seeing as how it’s one of the only non-James-Bond movies from producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, a.k.a. Eon Productions. It’s based on a book of the same title, published in 2011, the debut of author Mark Burnell, who also wrote the movie. Sure enough there are three subsequent Stephanie Patrick Thrillers – Chameleon, Gemini and The Third Woman – where she tries to quit the life but gets pulled back in or whatever. I prefer stories about ex-covert ops people using their skills for personal matters that come up to stories about covert ops people doing covert ops, but I would’ve been down for more movies.
Director Reed Morano was the cinematographer of that Melissa Leo movie FROZEN RIVER, plus KILL YOUR DARLINGS, THE SKELETON TWINS and, most impressively, some part of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. This is her third movie as a director, after MEADOWLAND (2015) and I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW (2018), but I guess her claim to fame is the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.
According to my sources on the information super highway, the six of us who saw THE RHYTHM SECTION on Friday contributed to “The Worst Opening For A Movie On More Than 3,000 Screens,” so I don’t expect we’ll be seeing more Stephanie Patrick Thrillers on film. I’ll have to deal with that, but can we have more Blake Lively vehicles, please?
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.