Directed By Reed Morano
Starring – Blake Lively, Jude Law, Tawfeek Barhom
The Plot – Blake Lively stars as Stephanie Patrick, an ordinary woman on a path of self-destruction after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash. When Stephanie discovers that the crash was not an accident, she enters a dark, complex world to seek revenge on those responsible and find her own redemption. Based on the novel by Mark Burnell.
Rated R for violence, sexual content, adult language throughout, and some drug use.
– Realism. While I have many problems with the way the action sequences are shot in the film, I can at least commend Morano for establishing not only real life consequences to his film, but also logic in what can be perceived as realistic on the silver screen. This isn’t a dig at women, but far too often I see films where a 100 pound woman soaking wet overpowers a male adversary three times her size, and while this film occasionally does hit on the same cliche, it does so by highlighting some steps in tactic that allows her to accomplish such a feat. I appreciate this because this protagonist isn’t just going to wake up one day and be an ass-kicking machine. She still very much requires exploiting a weakness to overtake her opposition, and this capped off with some believably bare-knuckle fight choreography makes for the closest example of real world logic in an action film in quite some time.
– Training sequences. Without question, the high point of the film for me was the initial engagement between Lively and Law’s characters, which result in a series of grueling tests for the former. The chemistry between them is not only radiant and consistently on display through some clever lines of dialogue, but there’s also some experimentation with the cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, that pushes the limits creatively to maintain audience attention. It’s a blessing and a bit of a disappointment that a training fight scene between these two people is the lone long take throughout the movie, as it gives the kind of artistic expression necessary to remove it from the conventional safety net that was the sum of its parts. In addition to this, the sound mixing is intensified to eleven during these scenes, forcing us to endure every spine-shattering, bone-crunching jab that each character inflicts on their jaded alli.
– Geographical variety. In establishing this as a film with a big world presence that requires its protagonist to combat the threat of global terrorism, there is a satisfying blend of cultural compensation that goes a long way in investing its budget visually. There are six different countries represented in the film. Each of them with enough time spent to truly appreciate what about them makes them distinctly different, all the while allowing Lively’s character the freedom to disappear in the devastation caused on different continents. A fifty million dollar budget might sound like a lot, but in 2020 where action genre offerings are spending more to inflict more, it’s really not. Thankfully, Morano sidesteps this handicap with a commitment to global expansion every chance the story gets.
– Cameo surprises. Knowing as little as I did going into this movie will pay off in the advantage of two major celebrity appearances that are used in the film where they can be enjoyed most. One is a major television drama star currently, but the way he is used in this particular film reminds us how much depth he has as one of the biggest triple threat genre actors going today. The other one is a brief cameo, but one that brought a smile to my face because this guy revels at playing these seedy, despicable human beings, and this is no exception. These big names not only add more prestige to Lively being the top name on the bill, serving as solidification for an actress who hasn’t quite found her vehicle yet in cinema, but also establishes more meaningful characters within the context of the film long before exposition weighs in.
– Dramatic miscasting. I love Blake Lively as much as anyone else. My problem with her has been the roles she has accepted, which outside of “The Age of Adeline” have done her no favors. That trend continues with “The Rhythm Section”, as her lack of personality over the character and complete fumbling of the English accent constantly leaves more to be desired. What is there is Lively’s dramatic muscle, depicting the emotional baggage that weighs heavily on the character’s demeanor. But nothing about her expressions or movements in the heat of battle ever feel truly comfortable, and they are only surpassed negatively by an accent that is something British, sometimes English, and sometimes Australian. It’s the second movie this weekend that has accent consistency problems, but Lively’s is the winner here, as she’s in nearly 100% of the movie’s scenes, carving out a far bigger offense for a longer span of time.
– Convolution. There are no shortage of screenplay offenses, which make this film almost entirely unwatchable for anyone trying to watch a revenge narrative unfold satisfyingly. For one, the revenge itself takes several detours and unravelings, which not only remove the personal aspect of Lively’s character going forward, but also makes us the audience forget why she’s invested so heavily in the first place. Beyond this, it tries to attack too many subplots with such a minimal amount of screen time (104 minutes), which in turn diminishes the emotional investment needed to sell empathy for the protagonist. Her family’s death is nothing more than an opening credits montage sequence, completely wiping out the devastation that the character faced when finding out, but beyond this a blossoming romance comes out of nowhere, and feels so tacked-on to give studio the satisfaction of a trope for females in cinema. Worse than even all of this, however, is Lively’s complete lack of transformation, which isn’t given the proper time to grow naturally and believably for audiences to buy her as a threat. One second she’s terrible at everything, and the next she’s an ace shooter with great speed. It often felt like watching a movie that is being directed by three different men, where none of them understand what makes the character or the perils of revenge so satisfying.
– Tonal inconsistencies. This is primarily a drama, obviously, but once in a while there will be a shift to comedy that feels every bit as unearned as it does compromising to the pivotal scenes they flourish in. Most of it has to do with a musical score and accompanying soundtrack that feel so unfortunately outside of the box of what would fit naturally with this particular genre of film, but a little bit more are these sharp lines of comedy that come out of nowhere to soil Lively’s contained misery. It’s understandable that a revenge film can often lack the rewatchability that a good time does, but this film’s desperate attempts to instill some personality into its spectrum drops the ball constantly, and takes many more positive elements of the film down with it, which takes away the sting of its vengeful narrative.
– Ugly action sequences. The charm of carnage is certainly there, as Reed Morano wastes no time, money, or energy destroying the many places he shoots in, but the choices made with its depiction keep you from ever truly enjoying what works about it. The lens angles are zoomed in so tight to ever indulge in the grand scale of what’s transpiring, and the shaking movements of the camera gave me the queasy quivers of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” for all of the wrong reasons. Likewise, the combat sequences minus the long take one between Lively and Law that I previously mentioned are equally shot with the proximity of a clothes sniffer who can’t back off when shit hits the fan between the characters. It lets an opportunity to rivet get away, and undermines what should be the big pay-off for all of our patience with character and storytelling shortcomings.
– Predictable. Nothing about this film surprised me in the slightest, with the exception of the cameo appearances from the two celebrities that I previously mentioned. Sure, there are twists and turns in the narrative, but they are telegraphed so easily from a mile away because of the mistakes made by a lack of attention given to who’s supposed to be our prime antagonist and the reason for everything Lively’s character is being put through. It’s obvious that a twist is coming, but the film doesn’t try to use a decoy or even a macguffin that I could easily forgive if deposited in a film that plays everything so straight and safe.
– Terrible title. The biggest shred of forgettable cinema starts with the words used to summarize everything encapsulated inside, and to call this “The Rhythm Section” completely undermines everything it is about. This will inevitably plague the film as a trivia question for decades to come, but beyond that the way it is worked into the film feels like trying to shove a bowling ball into a GLAD bag. It’s mentioned by Law that when firing a gun, the heart is the drums, and the breathing is the bass. This would of course matter if she fired a gun even once for the rest of the movie, but it doesn’t, and we’re really only left with a corny metaphor that even Hallmark wouldn’t put on a t-shirt. The good news is we won’t remember any of it in one month’s time.
My Grade: 4/10 or D-