Director Reed Morano’s film The Rhythm Section (2020) is slightly disappointing, only because there are glimpses of greatness that the rest of the film just doesn’t live up to. The story centers around Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), who became a heroin-addicted prostitute after her family died in a plane crash that she was also supposed to have been on. When Proctor, an investigative journalist, comes to her claiming that the plane was blown up and not just a crash, he breathes new life into Stephanie and a chance to take her survivor’s guilt out on a new target.
This film tries to be a character study and a spy movie merged into one – which works at some points – but it feels like it meanders too long in the dreary before getting to the point. Stephanie is an interesting character, but there is some depth to her situation that feels too perfunctory. Her new lifestyle is jarring when compared to the flashbacks of her time with her family. While she is clearly punishing herself and using heroin to dull the pain and guilt she feels, there is something that just doesn’t feel earned.
The film expects the audience to just accept this as the norm – that people who experienced great loss and guilt will inevitably turn to this movie trope. Then, once Stephanie chooses to give up this way of life and refocus it on killing the man responsible for their deaths, the movie doesn’t do a great job of showing that struggle. There are a few moments sprinkled in of her detoxing and still not “trusting” anyone, but it ultimately just feels like the movie is going through the checklist, rather than making it a singular experience that Stephanie is having. This is a shame because I think Lively is doing tremendous work in this film – especially if you compare the type of role required here with the ones she has done in the past. I very much loved A Simple Favor (2018) and The Shallows (2016), but what she is asked to do in this film is substantially different, and I think she does it well.
The co-stars in the film, Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown, don’t get much todo – but I feel they performed well, despite the limited screen presence. I don’t think their characters really make a whole lot of sense, and the plot connecting the three of them together becomes weaker the longer the film goes on. In some cases, this would be okay, as spy films often offer tons of action to make up for the simplicity of their plot – or the better ones craft dynamic characters that keep us engaged. This film mostly fails to do either. Stephanie has the potential to be complex but isn’t. The other guys have allusions to their troubled pasts, but still feel generic. When there are moments of action in the film, I found them compelling, and I cared enough about Stephanie that I was concerned for her well being. Still, there are too few, and the film takes a long time to get there with nothing substantial happening or developing while the audience waits.
Despite the shortcomings of the film, I did find it more enjoyable than not. I have found myself thinking about it quite a bit since leaving the theatre, but many of the thoughts are about its shortcomings and missed potential. I enjoyed the look of the film, Lively’s performance, and the idea of this origin story that could be something more. The Rhythm Section earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.