During my occasional action movie kicks, my main goal is to be totally immersed, so I was pretty thrilled to score an empty theater on a Sunday afternoon. I also love it when an action flick can flip the tables and do something different than the same old revenge plot. But as the lights in the theater dimmed and The Rhythm Section started up, I began to realize that maybe the Super Bowl wasn’t the only reason my theater was empty.
Don’t get me wrong, Reed Morano’s efforts don’t go unnoticed. The film keeps you engaged when it really tries to, but what the direction really lacks is any clear motivation. We know very little about our main character, Stephanie, and I have no idea why she even wants to become an assassin. Based on the annoyingly repetitive flashbacks, we’re left to assume that she’s just mad about her family dying in a plane crash.
The film can’t really decide if it wants to be an assassin movie or an origin story. Considering it’s based on a book which is the first in a series of four, I would have expected a lot more character development.
Stephanie Patrick is a prostitute living in a brothel when she is approached by journalist Keith Proctor, investigating the plane crash that killed her parents and siblings years prior. Stephanie agrees to help him when he reveals it wasn’t an accident, sending Stephanie on a mission to take down the ones responsible and getting help from an unlikely mentor along the way. I wish I could say to just watch the film to find out what else happens, but that’s kinda mostly it I’m afraid.
The screenplay for The Rhythm Section was written by the author of the book, Mark Burnell, and the film plays out much like a novel in real time. Unfortunately for this first time screenwriter, there’s a noticeable lack of basic film elements. I’m sure Stephanie has reasons for doing what she does, but none of that motivation is translated to the screen. The lack of character development leaves this would-be origin story feeling hollow.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
If this was something Blake Lively had done immediately post-Gossip Girl I would have agreed it was a solid role for her. At this point, I think she deserves better. The last few years have given her box office bombs that don’t showcase her talent. I don’t know if she’s holding herself back or if directors aren’t putting enough faith in her. I see something great here, it’s just not what it could be. She makes the character of Stephanie raw and emotional, but it’s just that without any reason. Sterling K. Brown was pure excellence as always. I thought Mac Serra was mysterious and enticing, even though he turned out to be not as dangerous as he should have been. Also, I love Jude Law, but his mentorship role lacks just as much motivation as Stephanie being there in the first place.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The sound design worked and fit really well. Better than you might expect for a basic action flick. The scene after the bus explosion is probably the most memorable. The opening scene is also very effective at pulling you into the world, giving me some of that immersion I so desperately craved. What I really liked about the trailer was the stripped down Sleigh Bells cover of Lead Belly’s famous song In the Pines. I’m always happy to see fitting soundtrack choices wherever I can get them.
The cinematography was very inconsistent. It was pretty when the camera was steady, but the overused guerrilla-style shakycam meant to add an element of unease to the frame gets really tired really fast. The dull overcast tone of the film creates a gritty atmosphere to match Stephanie's journey. The standout scene here is the big car chase through Tangier. Another impressive scene is Stephanie’s swim through a freezing lake during her training. The beautiful aerial shots combined with the score make it a powerful moment.
Early reports would suggest that my empty theater was not an isolated incident. The Rhythm Section just might set the record for biggest box office bomb, losing EON Productions up to $40 million. At first I was baffled as to why this film was even released. After all, production wrapped almost 2 years ago. Presumably, someone at Paramount just bumped into the final cut while dusting off a shelf, but hey, when you’re the same production company that makes Bond movies, I’m sure they can afford to throw $50 million to a knock off spy thriller.
They could have put some money towards a more robust marketing campaign, cut the film to a PG-13 rating to appeal to a wider audience, and released it any other weekend than Super Bowl weekend, but they didn’t. And I don’t think they ever wanted to. I think The Rhythm Section is exactly what it was meant to be: destined for the bargain bin. If that’s the kind of movie you want to see, then by all means, pick it up when it hits store shelves. But if you really just want to see a strong female lead character sparring with Jude Law for several minutes, go watch Captain Marvel.