A One-Woman Wrecking Crew

Directed by Reed Morano

Starring Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown

Rated R

Released January 31st, 2020

It is a helpless feeling to have loved ones taken from you through acts of violence. When this happens to characters in movies, they are sometimes able to personally exact revenge on the evildoers. We the audience are able to live vicariously through the actions of these protagonists in pain, imagining if we were in their shoes we’d be able to do the same. 

The Rhythm Section introduces us to Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), a woman living in the slums of London, her life a cloud of drugs. Stephanie lost her family in a plane crash a few years ago and the pain has been too much for her to bear. One day a man approaches, saying he has been looking for her. He is a journalist named Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey). He tells her the crash was no accident, but a terrorist attack. After seeing the evidence at Proctor’s apartment, Stephanie decides to avenge her family. That is what we would all want to do. This being the movies, she’s able to do so. 

Eventually Stephanie winds up at a cottage in Scotland, where she kicks drugs and is trained to be a killer over the course of a few months by ex-MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law). This process seems amazingly easy. You swim in a cold river. You fight with knives in a cottage. You eat porridge. You shoot guns. Become a super assassin in half a year, just take Iain Boyd’s Scottish course. Anyone can do it. Apply now. 

Stephanie takes on the guise of an assassin that Boyd killed some time earlier. This helps her move around in certain circles as she attempts to find, and murder, those responsible for killing her family. Finding them is easy. Killing them is not. Her first targets escape with their lives. Looks like Boyd’s training didn’t do the trick. I wonder if she could get a refund. 

It’s nice to see a would-be assassin fail on her way to ultimate victory and Blake Lively sells Stephaie’s pain and determination well. Director Reed Morano stages an impressive car chase seen entirely from the inside of Stephanie’s car, but if you’re looking for an exciting action/adventure spy movie, look elsewhere. This is more Red Sparrow than Atomic Blonde, but not as good or thematically complex as either of those films. 

I appreciate that EON, the producers behind the James Bond films, are presenting a film very different from their 007 movies, but The Rhythm Section didn’t click for me. The pacing is slow, the story grim, the tone dour. I didn’t feel as invested in Stephanie’s journey as I should have felt, and at the conclusion of the film I wasn’t excited about the prospect of following her on more murderous adventures. Let’s hope Stephanie will give herself a moment to get a hot cup of tea and just let herself grieve.