The Rhythm Section (2020)
Director: Reed Morano
Screenwriter: Mark Burnell
Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Mays, Raza Jaffrey
From the upper-east side gossip merchant she played in ‘Gossip Girl’ (2007-2012) to a new hard-hitting and ruthless personality in The Rhythm Section (2020), Blake Lively is showing the world her diversity as an actress, taking on a complex, multi-persona character within a fairly basic narrative that hardly deserves the many layers to her performance.
Reed Morano’s action-thriller is about a twenty-something girl, Stephanie (Lively), who is dealing with her parents’ deaths and is on a downward spiral due to her consequential involvement with prostitution, drugs and grief. When Stephanie is informed of a conspiracy about how the plane crash that killed her parents was actually a targeted terrorist attack, she decides to make it her mission to avenge them by any means necessary. She therefore goes about developing her strength and turns to a new ally to train her in combat (Jude Law as “B”), becoming an assassin with righteous anger at the heart of her narrative.
Lively portrays a badass revenger very well, and we see her transform from a loving, family-orientated girl to a strong, complex woman. In the natural linear narrative, which is masked by the non-linear (though never confusing) structure of the film, Stephanie begins as a bright-eyed, blonde-haired image of serenity and contentment, yet post-tragedy, she quickly becomes derailed. Her change of appearance, mainly her shorter, more ragged hair and scruffy clothes, visually convey her life collapsing after her parents were killed. Once she finds focus – revenge – she changes once again, this time to the badass persona of “Petra”, dyeing her hair and using wigs to become someone else.
Jude Law’s character “B”, in contrast, is enigmatic from the get-go, established as an undercover source and living in the wilderness in Scotland. Once Stephanie arrives in Inverness, Law appears very dominant and aggressive, and definitely not the “Mr Napkin Head” we all know and love (by “all”, I mean “the die-hard The Holiday fans”). Even once the narrative untangles his character a bit more, he is still leaves you unsure as to whether he is to be trusted. It is for this reasont that Law may not have been the right choice for this role, his performance filcking too much between being enigmatic/aggressive, and way too “Mr Nice Guy”. It seemed like he couldn’t find a hook for his performance to latch onto.
You may head into The Rhythm Section assuming that it is, at least in some way, about music – “Rhythm Section” actually describes the underlying rhythm of a piece of music, for example that of the bass or the drums. However, the title in this case refers to the controlling of breath and heart rate while shooting, as referenced in one particularly on-the-nose scene in which Law’s B is teaching Lively’s Stephanie how to shoot his pistol. While this may seem irrelevant to anything other than the title of the piece in the moment, it actually places a great deal of emphasis on the character’s breathing, as such creating a point of reference for the viewer as regards her progress into the world of murder and mystery that she so adamantly wants to be a part of. In multiple scenes, the recurring sound effects of her breathing and heartbeat encourage the tense, anxious atmosphere already present due to the vengeful action, forging a series of narrative beats unique and advantageous to this film overall.
A great element of this globe-trotting thriller is its vast use of locations, especially those outside of its base of London. The Rhythm Section successfully utilises a wide range of locations to symbolise the global impact of the narrative, predominantly the theme of terrorism. The location of Inverness in Scotland is one of beauty and tranquility, but also isolation, while Tangiers, Morocco creates a distinct visual feel for the movie and provides a rich mise-en-scene of decaying decadence, the same kind of decay Stephanie has felt within herself since the loss of her parents.
Generally, the narrative is somewhat predictable, which is usually the case with action films and particularly those with vengeful narratives. There were a few unexpected deaths and plot developments, but the general consensus was that Stephanie would go on a rampage and get her revenge in the end.
Reflecting on this piece of cinema, it was definitely a mediocre watch, though there were a lot of good moments and solid, understandable artistic choices. Possibly, with some tweaks, it could have been more gripping, but Blake Lively did manage to pull it back and keep the audience somewhat engaged with a performance far stronger than the movie around her.
You can support Sophie Cook in the following places: