Friday, January 31, 2020

The Rhythm Section Is Let Down By Its Most Generic Creative Impulses

Believe it or not, The Rhythm Section is a bit of an event movie in that it hails from producing duo Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. This is the pair responsible for producing all the James Bond movies, a commitment that's so time-consuming that, in their thirty-plus years of working as film producers, they've only ever produced one non-007 title (that would be the 2017 Annette Bening vehicle Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool). Their cinematic exploits outside of the James Bond series increase to two this week with the release of The Rhythm Section, an action/drama starring Blake Lively as an ordinary woman turned skilled assassin.

Now, nobody becomes a secret assassin just because they want to, there's usually some kind of tragic backstory to explain why they'd tackle that particular profession. For Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), her explanation engaging in the world of espionage is because her family was killed in a freak plane explosion. Racked with guilt and sorrow over this tragedy, Patrick has spent the last few months finding solace in drugs. However, a journalist informing her that her family was actually killed by an unknown terrorist leads her to track down a former MI6 agent by the name of Iain Boyd (Jude Law) to train her in the art of killing. She will have her revenge. But at what cost?

The Rhythm Section is an average movie that keeps threatening to go somewhere really unexpected and exciting. Screenwriter Mark Burnell, adapting from his novel of the same name, keeps introducing potentially unique concepts that could help make this a one-of-a-kind take on the revenge thriller genre. Placing heavy emphasis in early scenes on Stephanie Patrick being an addict makes the prospect of her juggling assassin duties with the daily struggles of being a recovering addict an intriguing one. Alas, once she becomes proficient in fighting, she never displays any signs of previously struggling with addiction, it's like that's a part of her character that never even existed.

Similarly, a mid-film mission gone awry briefly teases the idea that The Rhythm Section may be about to transform into a deconstruction of typical revenge thriller likes Taken. Instead, such potential storytelling terrain remains unexplored and The Rhythm Section proceeds to go down a predictable narrative path. Such formulaic tendencies tragically include a third-act showdown with pack of disposable racially insensitive (at best) baddies for Stephanie Patrick to dispose of. Why on Earth are action movies still doing lazy "radical Islamic terrorist" baddies like 24 is still the hottest thing on television?

Such lazily-written two-dimensional adversaries really stand out in The Rhythm Section since its best moments tend to stem from actually exploring its protagonist's mindset in an insightful manner. The villains never register as believable human beings in this grounded thriller but at least Burnell's script does make a point of emphasizing what kind of trauma-induced desire for vengeance is constantly motivating Stephanie Patrick. While the character becomes less and less concretely defined as the story goes on, it's a role that, particularly in the first act, has its intriguing moments stemming from a showing a person truly at rock bottom with nothing to live for beyond a craving for grisly closure.

Lead actor Blake Lively really succeeds in the parts of her performance that allow her to explore the rougher edges of Stephanie Patrick and she proves to also be a fine match for The Rhythm Section's assorted forays into action sequences. The hand-to-hand combat scenes aren't anything to write home about in terms of filmmaking and editing, but an extended car chase does lead to the best work from director Reed Morano as she chooses to film the sequence from the perspective of the passenger seat of one of the cars participating in this set piece. Morano's direction here is quite thrilling and, most importantly, it's immensely distinct, an element that The Rhythm Section could have used more of to make it stand out as more than just a rare non-007 creative effort from its producers.

No comments:

Post a Comment