Three years after a plane crash kills her entire family, Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) discovers that a terrorist was responsible for the tragedy. In order to get revenge on those responsible she must team up with former MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law), AKA “B”, and assume the identity of a deceased assassin. Only she’s a junkie prostitute without any espionage experience and little time to learn the necessary skills.
Stephanie has her work cut out for her if she has any hope of passing the rigorous training and survive the dangerous world of espionage and assassinations. If this sounds a bit far fetched, it certainly is. But that’s what you get with The Rhythm Section.
Following the crash that killed her family, Stephanie Patrick has hit rock bottom; she’s a drug addicted prostitute living in London. Her downward spiral is interrupted when she’s contacted by Keith Proctor (Raza Jeffrey), a freelance journalist who informs her a man named Reza (Tawfeek Barhom) is responsible for the explosion that forever changed her life. The shocking information angers her more when she learns Reza is freely walking the streets of London.
With this knowledge, Patrick uses Proctor’s research to track down Reza with the intent of killing him. But she doesn’t have what it takes to do the deed. Her inability to pull the trigger isn’t without consequences though. Spooked by Patrick’s appearance, Reza disappears and sets into motion a chain of events that ruins the investigative work Proctor and his informant have done thus far.
In order to get to the elusive Reza and kill all those responsible for the death of her family, Patrick must track down Proctor’s informant, former MI6 agent Iain Boyd and get his help. But what use does a fully trained former MI6 agent have with an untrained junkie? In order for Boyd to be able to work with Patrick, he needs to get her trained up so that she can assume the identity of a dead assassin so that Patrick can infiltrate the criminal underworld Reza operates in and kill the terrorist.
Despite an illogical story, the acting is very impressive. Blake Lively masterfully portrays a broken woman at rock bottom, fueled by revenge that pushes her to her limits. The raw look of the film helps amplify the trashy and angry state her character is at the start of the film and the raw, unrefined determination fueling her as the story progresses. She is pure forward-moving energy without the skill of years of proper training and experience, which makes for a different type of spy movie when compared to 2017’s Atomic Blonde or 2018’s Red Sparrow.
While this makes for a somewhat realistic approach to the training and action scenes, it also makes it hard to swallow that she keeps surviving these dangerous encounters because her character is way out of her league.
Jude Law is also impressive as former MI6 agent Iain Boyd, AKA “B”. He’s a no-nonsense, dangerous and hardened intelligence operative who for some reason gives in to the determination of a prostitute junkie and gives her bare minimal training before sending her off to impersonate a deceased yet well known assassin called Petra Reuter. If you ignore the reckless and unrealistic decisions of his character, Law’s militant and intense performance is one of the film’s highlights.
Director Reed Morano (I Think We’re Alone Now, Meadowland) has made a raw gritty espionage revenge movie that looks and feels fantastic. She’s an experienced cinematographer who has amplified the solid acting from Lively and Law with a cinematic experience that puts you in the thick of it. You really feel the sense of whirlwind chaos Patrick finds herself in as she tries to survive life and death encounters. You feel the cold and agony she feels through the camera and color pallette as she trains with Boyd or when she finds the energy to leave her life of prostitution. Morano has brilliantly portrayed empathy through the cinematic style which I think is the real standout element of this movie.
Unfortunately, this raw cinematic look and feel clashes with the story and really highlights how dumb this premise is. While it’s nice to see a different angle where the protagonist isn’t an expert and is essentially bumbling their way forward, the fact that it hasn’t been shot in an over-the-top Hollywood fashion makes it painfully obvious this protagonist would be toast in every scenario she finds herself in. I don’t care how much vengeful determination you have, if you’re not properly trained or equipped to face international terrorists and ex-government intelligence members then you really don’t stand a chance of surviving more than two seconds.
Despite fantastic raw performances from Lively and Law and having a great cinematic look and feel, The Rhythm Section is an agitating movie experience that fails to deliver. I don’t believe a character such as Boyd would bother working with a character like Patrick and I don’t believe her character could survive any of the life-threatening encounters she finds herself in. If Morano had gone for a more “Hollywood” take on this story, it might have worked, but the raw, realistic way the film was shot prevented me from suspending disbelief and ignoring how absurd the whole story is.