‘The Rhythm Section’ saved by Lively burning up screen

By Chic DiCiccio

“The Rhythm Section” was delayed during filming, delayed for release for almost a full year, and now, it’s being tossed into theaters on Super Bowl weekend. Sure, a vigilante justice thriller with a female lead is decent sports counter programming, but that movie trifecta screams disaster. 

Blake Lively (right) and Sterling K. Brown in “The Rhythm Section.”
Photo courtesy of Babieka

Yes, this movie is a bit of a mess. The plot is overly convoluted, the outcome is fairly predictable, the pace is atrocious … but Blake Lively absolutely burns up the screen. This is a surprising performance that begs for Lively to find a project on the same level as her clearly massive commitment to it. 

Lively is Stephanie Patrick, a Londoner whose parents and siblings are tragically killed in a plane crash. She’s got one of the worst cases of survivor’s guilt ever, as she was supposed to be on the plane with them. The movie begins three years after that event, and her current situation is such a shock to the system, and unexpected, that it shouldn’t be spoiled. 

The wheels get a bit wobbly when Stephanie learns that the plane crash was not an accident and several world governments participated in a bit of a nonsensical cover up. This eventually leads her to Iain Boyd (Jude Law), a mysterious ex-intelligence agent who lives a solitary existence in the hills of Scotland, who decides to be her Obi-Wan in the ways of assassination and contract killing. 

Mark Burnell’s script (based on his novel of the same name) moves slowly and gets exceptionally far-fetched when Stephanie heads out into the field after less than a year of training. Sure, her first “mission” goes sideways and Lively does an amazing job of showing just how freaked out she is during it, but it’s hard to believe that she would have any chance of survival.

“The Rhythm Section” does get to boast an original story with a female lead and a female director, Reed Morano. Morano and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt employ several single-take shots that are not only intense and brutal but show off the fact that Lively is doing what appears to be every single stunt. A close-quarters, one-shot fight between Lively and Law is so intense that Lively was injured while filming, which is what caused the delay. 

The main highlight is a car chase that is edited to appear as one-shot, but the camera never leaves the inside of Stephanie’s car. It captures her panic while slowly giving a 360 degree look at what’s happening around her. It’s a very unique sequence that shows Morano is a director with some serious promise. 

However, if not for Lively, “The Rhythm Section” could have been a disaster. There is no doubt that she’s completely immersed herself in the character, and her perfect English accent is only topped by her full commitment to the physicality of the role. There are times when she’s punched or slammed to the ground and her painful shouts are difficult to stomach. She’s as cool as they come, and her icy demeanor is strangely endearing. 

But there are far too many stretches in “The Rhythm Section” that are a complete bore. It’s too slow to even be called a slow burn. It does set up a sequel, which now that Stephanie’s origin is out of the way does have potential. Regardless, Blake Lively is a legit screen talent that someone simply must exploit soon.