The Rhythm Section

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Rhythm Section
dir Reed Morano
scr Mark Burnell
prd Michael G Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
with Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K Brown, Max Casella, Raza Jaffrey, Richard Brake, Nasser Memarzia, Amira Ghazalla, Tawfeek Barhom, Jack McEvoy, Ibrahim Renno, Jade Anouka
release US/UK 31.Jan.20
20/Ireland 1h49

law brown jaffrey

There's enough earthy atmosphere in this offbeat thriller to hold the interest, even if it gets somewhat stuck in its own orbit. Director Reed Morano and writer Mark Burnell play everything so straight that the film feels pretentious and over-serious, even though it's essentially a mindless action genre piece. Still, the actors bring their characters to life, and Morano's tight point of view adds some intriguing surprises.
After her family dies in a plane crash, Stephanie (Lively) loses the will to comb her hair, becoming a junkie hooker on the mean streets of London. Then journalist Proctor (Jaffrey) tells her a villain bombed the plane, and she sets off to get revenge. In the Scottish Highlands, she meets a shady spy (Law) who teaches her the ropes before she heads out to New York, Spain, Morocco and France to track down the killer. But her contacts are shifty, including a rogue American operative (Brown), and getting to the truth isn't easy.
Morano shoots everything through Stephanie's eyes, including fights and chase sequences, which adds an original kick to the action beats. Although this also makes everything feel eerily internalised, stripping away the scale of what happens. And since Stephanie is such a miserable young woman with no sense of humour, everything that happens feels faintly absurd. Especially since she seems unable to tame her unkempt hairdo (after visiting a salon, it looks even worse). Basically, this is a simplistic way of reminding the audience that, even though she's ditched drugs and prostitution, she's still damaged.

Thankfully, Lively deepens the character with a powerful performance that's both thoughtful and physically gruelling. She adds plenty of gritty resolve to the role, even when it begins to feel deeply implausible, and even though the script and direction never genuinely develop Stephanie beneath the surface. Her scenes with Law have a nice energy to them, as do her more wary moments with Brown. But a bizarrely edited in romantic suggestion feels misjudged.

There's definitely a sense that this is meant to launch a female Bourne-type franchise, which might happen if the film connects with audiences. Although it may struggle to do this due to its rather ponderously morose tone, thinly plotted script and arthouse point of view. At least Morano is trying to do something original here, looking at action through a female eye, even if it's also clear that she had to compromise to meet the naggingly male gaze in the industry at large.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Jan.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall