Movie Review: ‘The Rhythm Section’

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2020

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By Lauren Bradshaw

I wanted to like “The Rhythm Section;” I really did. Female director: Check. Spy thriller: Check. Blake Lively and a great supporting cast of Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown: Check. But unfortunately a poor, unnecessarily complicated script and illogical character development made this film a stinker. I should have known better with a January release date, the time many studios release movies they lack confidence in. But I always go into a movie wanting to like it, especially one based off of a popular book. As seen here, sometimes I am disappointed.

Stephanie (Lively), a once promising Oxford student, hits rock bottom after her family dies in a plane crash. Trading her elite degree for a life of drug abuse and prostitution, Stephanie is spiraling out of control until she meets a journalist (Raza Jaffrey) who explains the plane crash may not have been an accident. He believes it was an act of terrorism that the British government is covering up, sending Stephanie on a path of revenge to make those responsible pay the ultimate price.

That premise sounds interesting enough, right? Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a film you have more or less seen before — without giving you enough excitement to make you want to see it again. The biggest problem isn’t the deus ex machina plot devices that conveniently save our heroine more than once. It is instead that the script doesn’t properly build the relationship between Stephanie and her family, the lynchpin of the film’s entire premise; a brief scene of her family spending 9023490234 hours trying to take a picture does not provide the necessary stakes that explain her character spiraling so far out of control. Not only that, there was way too much expositional dialogue that was likely added because of an overcomplicated plot.

Do I wish Blake Lively didn’t do a British accent the whole movie? Yes. Do I wish they put her in a wig that didn’t look like a mix between Judy Garland and Timothee Chalamet? Equally yes. Let me explain. The film has a serious problem with believable character arcs. I can get over bad wigs and Blake is (for the most part) great in the film, despite her distractingly inconsistent British accent. But I can’t get over poor character development. I get that this is a movie and runtime is limited, but having hardly any backstory was detrimental to getting the audience invested in Stephanie. And having her character detox from hard drug use in a couple days without any consequences was ridiculous; I can see how that may have worked better in the book.

I don’t want to end this review on a completely bad note because the bright side of the film is its cinematography. Director Reed Morano is a cinematographer herself and it shows. There are a lot of really beautiful shots in the film, including one long take car chase scene in Tangier that was the highlight of the film. It’s clear Morano is incredibly talented and I hoper her next directorial opportunity will give her a better chance to combine her amazing vision with a worthy script.

If you’re looking for a fun spy thriller to watch this weekend (especially one with a strong female protagonist), please check out “Red Sparrow” instead. Or if you haven’t watched “The Americans” or listened to the podcast “I Spy,” get on that immediately. All are well worth your time.

“The Rhythm Section” is not.

My Review: C-

LAUREN BRADSHAW is a lover of all movies, even the bad ones. Follow her on twitter @flickchickdc. She grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.