THE RHYTHM SECTION Can’t Find the Beat

Blake Lively stars as a woman seeking vengeance in this generic action film

There’s much that is promising about The Rhythm Section, from award-winning director Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale), producer Barbara Broccoli, and star Blake Lively, to a supporting cast including Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown. And yet, despite a dedicated attempt from Lively, there’s little novelty here. The story falters in its attempts at momentum; the frantic camerawork is the only aspect of the project that moves very quickly.

Lively leads the film as Samantha, the lone surviving member of her family after her parents and siblings die in a plane explosion. Devastated by her loss, three years later she is barely lucid and using heroin. A journalist named Proctor (Raza Jaffrey, MI5) visits and tells her he knows who set the explosion; of course the walls of his apartment are covered in articles and photos of the plane’s victims (I wrote “tropey wall of obsession” in my notes). Inspired out of her survivor’s remorse, Samantha and her yellow wig (Lively wears many wigs in this movie and they are mostly awful) borrow a clue from Proctor’s research and find a former British spy (Jude Law) hiding out in rural Scotland who trains her for revenge.

“You’re a cliche,” he tells Samantha in a turning point for her character. And until this moment of the film, this is certainly the case. She finds her determination and swims in a frosty lake, and you expect here is where The Rhythm Section might take off and turn into something new. You would be wrong.

There’s a glaring lack of specificity to the work — “radical Islamists” are suspected of setting the explosion, a tired narrative choice. Lively does what she can to give dimension to her character, although the writing doesn’t give her much to work with.

The Rhythm Section brings to mind a Bourne film, but as the best aspects of this work occur in fleeting moments — the above-mentioned lake swim, a car chase through Tangier showcasing Samantha’s lack of finesse, something like chemistry between Samantha and a contact in Spain (Sterling K. Brown) — it only serves to remind the viewer of lost potential. The camerawork, when not dizzyingly blurry, tends to keep Samantha’s point of view in mind, and never objectifies her. The sound design is impressive. But these technical elements can’t make up for the plot being a generic, unbaked mess.

Blake Lively could (and should) lead a great espionage thriller! But The Rhythm Section is, unfortunately, not that.

The Rhythm Section is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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