For a film titled The Rhythm Section, it can't ever seem to find one. This is a messy film, unsure of what it wants to be. Blake Lively does what she can but her usual spark is dampened by a dourly written character.
The opening of the film introduces us to Stephanie Patrick (Lively) sneaking into a building to kill someone. We then flash back to 8 months beforehand. Stephanie is a freebasing prostitute who is physically and emotionally frail. This is quite an arc for a character and hooks the audience in for how she manages such a transformation. Stephanie lost her entire family on a plane ride that she is supposed to be on. She has been numbing her guilt ever since. When a freelance journalist shows up and tells her that her family was murdered and the flight went down because of a bomb, Stephanie decides to hunt down those that are responsible.
This ludicrous and implausible premise could have resulted in a pulpy, fun but dumb thriller. However, The Rhythm Section is a series of missteps. The biggest issue, but certainly not the only one, is the convoluted script. The story jumps all over the continent but lacks clarity in the details.
Stephanie trains under Iain Boyd (Jude Law), a former MI-6 agent who has his reasons for wanting to go after the people behind the bomb. Much time is spent as he trains her and helps her kick the habit. Lively gives a fine performance but has to be so muted because of the character that her charisma is never utilized until the film's final moments. Law is equally bland, a reflection of the poor writing more than on his performance.
The film never explains why Boyd decides to train Stephanie. It never explains why they wait until the day of another potential bombing to try and stop the bad guys. Tonally, the film shifts from heavy handed melodrama to action scenes fit for a spy-thriller. There are numerous odd needle drops of pop songs that are jarring and reflect the uncertainty the film has about what it wants to be. I think the intent was to make an emotionally harrowing story of revenge but too often it falls into tired cliches of spy thrillers.
While the varied tone of the film is a problem, the more glaring issue is how silly the whole thing is while trying to be so serious. Stephanie constantly disguises herself but never needs to as no one knows who she is. There is a double-cross surprise that makes little to no sense. It springs a romance onto her out of nowhere only to do nothing with it. The Rhythm Section refers to a technique that Boyd teaches Stephanie, "the drum is your heart, the bass is your breathing." This too never goes anywhere.
The Rhythm Section has very little that works in it. The one thing I can say about the direction is that the action scenes are unique. They often are shot entirely from Stephanie's point of view and occasionally thrill as a result. The rest of the film is a disaster.