The Rhythm Section is a movie ostensibly about a grief so devastating, so soul-shattering, that it prompts its protagonist to undergo not one but two radical, life-altering personal paradigm shifts in the course of a few years, the sort of realignment after which one barely recognizes oneself.
Surely, then, this is a film with a profound understanding of human relationships, of how we support one another and what we mean to one another and how slogging through this mortal existence is rendered meaningful because of whom we know and whom we love, and how ruinous it is when that's all snatched away so cruelly.
LOL. Not a chance. There isn't a single human interaction in this disaster of a thriller that rings true. Not even the exploitive, baldly transactional ones that are all about exchanging money for a pretense of human interaction.
Welcome to the January cinematic dumping ground.
Poor Blake Lively: She does her best as Stephanie Patrick, a former top-of-her-class Oxford University student turned (checks notes) crack-smoking prostitute turned (checks notes) freelance intelligence operative/assassin. Even her fake British accent is, if not perfect, a little better than what usually happens when most American actors make such an effort. If The Rhythm Section appears to be an attempt for the actress to de-glam herself and get down and dirty — in that time-honored way that seems to be, sadly, the only way in which beautiful women can be taken seriously as actors — well, that's more of an indictment of Hollywood than it is any poor reflection on Lively. She deserves to be taken seriously.
But this ain't gonna do it. The ham-fisted script by Mark Burnell, based on his novel, is the first of four (so far) about Stephanie Patrick, which goes to show yet again that novelists should not adapt their own books. (Or else the book itself is shit. I haven't read it. But both things could be true.) We're supposed to believe that the first of Patrick's shifts — from elite student to crack-smoking prostitute — happens in the wake of her entire family (parents and siblings) being killed in a plane crash, perhaps compounded by the guilt that she was also supposed to be on that flight. Except she apparently also did not care enough about her family to prevent her blowing them off at the very last minute, while they were expecting her to meet them at the airport?
One of these things is not like the other. This is but the first of many mysterious — nay, bizarre — instances of glossing over character motivations that you'd think were really vital and essential to understanding and empathizing with Patrick, and with any of the other "people" appearing onscreen. What the heck is driving Raza Jaffrey's journalist, who decides to approach Patrick, now a sex worker, about the story he's investigating, that that plane crash wasn't an accident but was, in fact, an act of terrorism that has been covered up at the highest levels? (What is the point of that, except to kickstart the plot?) What the hell is driving Jude Law's ex-MI6 agent (the journalist's inside source) when he decides, seemingly randomly, and without any prompting on the part of anyone, to transform the waif who shows up on his doorstep in rural Scotland (Patrick, in case that's not clear, and what with all of the absurdities of this movie, that's not at all a given) into a kickass secret agent who can hunt down the perpetrators of that terror incident? Who can say? Certainly not this movie.
The Rhythm Section — the title refers to something-something about one's heartbeat being the drums and one's breathing being the bass, or maybe it's the other way around, and ya gotta learn to control 'em in order to become an efficient killing machine — is like a badly degraded Xerox of a spy thriller from the sub-genre of "Let's Turn The Girl Urchin Into a Spy." (There's a reason why the phrase La Femme Nikita kept dancing through my brain during this movie, and it's not only because Lively here looks so much like Bridget Fonda in the pale 1993 Hollywood remake of Nikita, Point of No Return.)
Cinematographer turned director Reed Morano, with her third feature, certainly has feminist chops. She's produced and directed a few episodes of The Handmaid's Tale and will be directing and producing all of Amazon's upcoming series based on Naomi Alderman's, er, electrifyingly feminist book The Power. But the only thing remotely feminist about this movie is Lively's wardrobe, which mostly refrains from casting her as a fetish object. That's nowhere near enough to make this worth anyone's time.