The Rhythm Section

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?

This entry was posted on Monday, February 3rd, 2020 at 7:28 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “The Rhythm Section”

  1. I feel like the narrative people want to tell is that it bombed as more proof that girl power action movies are get eoke, go broke


    That somehow the “bad” title kept people away.

    Either is such nonsense.

  2. I think the truth about why this bombed was that I first saw a trailer of it a week or two ago, and I had forgotten it was coming out. I think most people didn’t know it was coming out, also 31% on Rottentomatoes didn’t help. I know a lot of people will look up a film on Rottentomatoes if they don’t know anything about it. It also has a 41% audience score which means that a lot of people didn’t tell their friends to watch it. Usually, a film can have negative reviews, but positive audience score, and of course with art films, they can have good critics reviews and terrible audiences score, just look up something like The Witch.

    Not a lot of people knew about, does that watch it didn’t get people to see it and does that knew about though it didn’t look good. Maybe $2,8 million is from the people who read the books and Vern.

  3. Yeah, I feel like I know more about movies than the average bear and I literally only heard of this movie like 5 days ago. Marketed well it was not.

  4. Never cared for Blake Lively but she sure impressed me with THE SHALLOWS. Heard she was good in AGE OF ADALINE as well.

  5. I saw commercials on Hulu for like three weeks prior so I guess all their marketing went to those who have the ad tier on Hulu.

  6. This looked interesting but in a “mental note: watch this when it lands on Amazon Prime” way, not a “go to a theater” way. So…I’ll watch it when it’s on Amazon, which if it did that badly in theaters, ought to be around Valentine’s Day.

  7. I just heard about this movie the other day and I assumed it was some festival thing that wouldn’t actually come out for several months. Had no idea it was getting a wide release, like, right now. And I’m the audience for this movie, so yeah, I’d say the marketing was pretty ineffective.

  8. I’ve seen the trailer before a number of movies in the last few months, so I was well aware this was coming out. Here’s the problem: the trailer is fucking terrible, and while THE RHYTHM SECTION may or may not make sense as a title in context, it’s a fucking terrible title for a thriller out of context.

    The worst part of the trailer is that it’s set to some sort of creepy, low key electronic cover of “In the Pines/Where Did you Sleep Last Night”. It’s been 10 years since THE SOCIAL NETWORK came out; any trailer that uses this tired trope of playing a haunting version of a familiar pop song should be an embarrassment to the person who cut it.

  9. Yeah, I hate those ‘flash-forward to something dramatic happening’ openings. It seems like a trope entirely directed at coke-addled studio execs who would toss a script in the recycling if it doesn’t immediately have gunshots going off and no other audience. Anyway, strong movie. The oner with B and Stephanie going at it is a fairly impressive bit of choreography, the car chase was fun, and the New York sequence was a good bit of ‘holy shit, they went there!’ Very much not ‘female James Bond,’ which I guess is what people wanted or dismissed it as, but doing something a tad different with the new kid.

    I did think it almost had the American Assassin problem of the cool old guy mentor being cooler than the hero and (cue boos) I thought some of the feminist solidarity stuff took it a bit far. Her getting through to the mom instead of the dad is fine, but the moment where the female terrorist helps her out because they’re both just sisters trying to make in a man’s world or something–eye-roll. But other than that, I wouldn’t mind a double feature of The Rhythm Section 2 with J2: John Carter United.

  10. Anyone here saw Luc Besson’s ANNA? It was better than i expected.

  11. Dan – I almost mentioned “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” which is also at the end of the movie, because it was the most memorable part of the trailer. But I don’t think it quite fits the trailer cliche you’re talking about because it’s not just the Leadbelly song translated into a different style, it’s pretty clearly inspired by the Nirvana’s version of the song. I don’t know, I thought it was kind of cool to have a woman singing a Nirvana version of a Leadbelly song, and the messy blues of it all sort of fits the character. But I can see why you would find it annoying.

    Felix – Me too!


  12. That restaurant fight in ANNA was almost John Wick level good.

  13. Maybe they use the song well in the movie, but it is ABSOLUTELY the cliche I’m talking about in the trailer. The Nirvana version is a sorta acoustic white man’s blues thing, this version starts off with spooky synths and whisper-singing. It builds to something louder and guitar-y-er, sure, but it still sounds like every other sad, haunting cover of a pop song used in countless trailers over the last decade.

  14. I’ve said it before and I’ll sayit again: the first candidate that promises to specifically ban slow, spooky versions of famous pop songs in trailers via constitutional amendment will get my vote.

  15. BTW, I’m not knocking the song, I’m knocking the trailer. It somehow made a trashy thriller where Blake Lively has a British accent and apparently dresses up as a dominatrix at one point look mopey and miserable, and pretty much ensured that I would never see it despite my fondness for both Lively and trash. The use of the song was the icing on the cake, a lazy trailer cliche that has become risible at this point.

  16. Wait. I’m confused. Does she kick drugs before leaving the brothel? Or with B? Or is it a movie addiction where it just goes away magically? Because as I was reading the plot description, the addiction struggle angle was THE most compelling part.

  17. As for why this movie bombed —

    I only found out it was an action film and not a failed prestige drama a week before the film’s release. And then I thought it was a Death Wish style revenge movie where the victimized female lead gets her own revenge. (“I don’t need no Charles Bronson!” — Jodie Foster, THE BRAVE ONE.)

    It wasn’t until reading Vern’s review that I found out it was a SPY movie with a direct connection to the Bond franchise. I also had no idea what the fuck the title meant. Vern’s explanation does, indeed, sound cool, But maybe ill-advised for a wouldbe franchise starter.

    Shame this didn’t do better, I want more female lead action. Especially if it’s legitimately good. I think I’ll make the effort to buy a ticket before this leaves screens.

  18. Birds of Prey should scratch that itch this weekend.

  19. This weekend I should just go see this, Birds of Prey and Bad Boys because we could always use more action movies.

  20. I didn’t go see it cause, well, the trailer just didn’t look that exciting. The title didn’t turn me off it(I assumed it was a reference to something in the movie and that it would make sense if you watched it) but the trailer just looked like a basic revenge thriller with no real pizazz or wow factor that made me think “I need to go see this” rather than “I’ll maybe check it out when it hits Amazon”, especially with no pre-existing love for the lead or director(I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lively in anything or seen anything directed by Morano)

  21. I only saw this trailer once and it was at the movies, so it was one of those things where when the trailers are over it’s all a blur and I hardly remember any of them. I do remember seeing it now that you remind me. Somehow I didn’t recognize Blake Lively! Which brings me to the reason I think it didn’t open well, which is the shag haircut. Yes, Rhythm Section is not a great name. Didn’t they see John Wick or Jack Reacher? When you adapt one of these series character types, you name the first movie after them. Don’t try some “walk among the tombstones” BS.

    I often am put off by bad or cliche’ed trailers, to the point of not wanting to see the movie, but I almost passed on Wolf of Wall Street because I the trailer repelled me as badly as this one repelled some of you guys. I’m kinda glad I still saw it. Kinda. I’ll go see this movie this weekend, now that you reminded me that it exists.

    In this fast paced world, I think the film student kids that make trailers are going to feel caught off guard that the ‘spooky sad song that gets loud’ model has fallen out of favor already, I think they thought they’d get a few more years out of it at least.

  22. Caught up with this one and it is *great*. The action scenes were intense, the Tangier car chase filmed entirely from the passenger’s seat was awesome, I was very invested in Stephanie as a character… This movie deserved a lot better from the public than it got.

    I gotta add to the chorus blaming the marketing, because literally the first time I remember hearing about this movie was Vern’s review, and I never heard about it again after. Maybe when I rack my brain I can vaguely remember seeing Blake Lively with that haircut on a movie poster — but I guess “the Rhythm Section,” while a cool title that I like now that I’ve seen the movie — wouldn’t have made me take note.

  23. Thank you! I’m glad it wasn’t just me!

  24. Did this even get distributed overseas? I was hoping to catch this but alas no luck.

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