Revenge stories are the archetypal foundation of the over-saturated “celebrity-with-a-gun-and-a-mission” brand of cinema. The Rhythm Section, which features Mark Burnell who wrote the book this film is based on as its screenwriter, sees Blake Lively as the distraught and downtrodden Stephanie Patrick, seeking vengeance for the death of her family in an airline crash which isn’t what it seems. Director Reed Morano tries to convince us that this film is something more, something deeper than just the typical personal journey towards retribution. Yet The Rhythm Section ultimately fails to find its own rhythm in amongst all the chaos and confusion.

The film’s first act is slow but grounded, laying the foundations of the story adequately enough to propel the narrative forward. We open with Stephanie, who has resorted to drugs and prostitution in the years succeeding the crash. But after a journalist comes to her with information suggesting it wasn’t an accident, she seeks the help of a man known only as B (Jude Law) to exact revenge on those responsible for her family’s death.

Lively does a sound job of portraying this tortured soul but isn’t allocated half as much time as necessary to really get to know the character. Superficiality and convenience take precedence instead; Stephanie’s backstory is reduced to a series of what seem to be phone-camera montages of her late family, plonked carelessly into the narrative as flashbacks. To make matters more artificial, she manages to transform from a heroin addict into a trained – if heavily flawed – assassin in just 8 months, which demands significant suspense of disbelief (and not in the fun way that the John Wick franchise requires with all its brilliant, hyperbolised killing-sprees).

The Rhythm Section also lacks any sort of style or finesse. Admittedly, it’s well shot – there is a stimulating car chase scene executed in one take – but for a revenge film such as this to be so brief with its action, it must make up for in character development and flair. Morano can’t quite tune the film with enough precision to elevate a derivative and predictable plot structure and doesn’t deliver on the hinted psychological impacts this lifestyle might have on someone who is clearly hanging on by a thread.

The film, therefore, is as muddled and out of its depth as its central character – a serious story which is difficult to take seriously. Despite the author of the book penning the screenplay, The Rhythm Section is a protracted ride which plods awkwardly towards an obvious conclusion, rarely swaying from the confounds of its self-imposed cliché-fest.

2 stars

Image: Movie DB

Josh Teggert is a Screen Editor at Forge Press.

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