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MOVIES: The Rhythm Section - Review

There are two things that you’re going to need to know if you take the time out of your day to watch The Rhythm Section.

The first thing being is that despite all comparisons that have been made that label this film as a James Bond or Jason Bourne clone, and indeed, it’s what Eon could have been expecting going into the production of The Rhythm Section, especially following in the wake of would-be franchise starters like Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow, and even moreso when you learn that Jude Law’s character goes by the name of “B”, a homage to Bond’s “M”, playing the role as trainer, recruiter and handler for Blake Lively’s Stephanie in the field despite the fact that his espionage days are over.

The other thing that you’ll need to know – okay, maybe need is over-exaggerating - but it will soon become clear to you that the number of wigs Lively wears over the course of this film rivals that of Keri Russell’s usage of them in all six seasons of The Americans. And they’re not all as effective as The Rhythm Section wants them to be.

It turns out that Stephanie Patrick has been, pretty understandably hit hard by the loss of her family on a flight that she was meant to be on but opted not to go and in the three years since her idealistic life as a university student in a happy family has seen her become a broken shadow of her former self, working as a prostitute in London and developing a drug addiction. This is before a journalist comes to see her just wanting to talk: he has information that the person responsible for blowing up the plane her parents were on may not be behind bars, and is still at large, and soon Stephanie finds herself swept up in a world of global espionage, taking us from countries like Scotland to Spain and France to America. It’s a familiar plot, but director Reed Morano makes the film openly hostile, harsh and uneasy to like from the beginning, the action sequences are claustrophobic, tight and always uncomfortable, and the film has a grittiness to it that reminds audiences of Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher or Morvern Callar, especially with its approach to music.

The soundtrack features recognisable music cues boasting a healthy dosage of 60s beats, recently featured in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, the Mamas and the Papas’ Straight Shooter makes a reappearance, and The Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for the Man kicks in fairly early on in the film. Yet rather than overindulge on the music, audiences are treated to a few seconds of The Velvet Underground before the song cuts away again, as whilst the music is there, it is carefully chosen as a way to get inside Stephanie’s headspace and mentality on her current mission. The action sequences themselves are tight, tense and ugly, with the film becoming increasingly bloody in places as it progresses but again, Morano adopts a sense of restraint to The Rhythm Section that never lets the film get out of hand, and it doesn’t suffer from the over the top final act that was the downfall of Atomic Blonde.

Despite the fact that The Rhythm Section goes out of its way to avoid the same style as the Bond films, it can’t help but borrow plot points and cues from them, which should be no surprise given their dominance of the genre. There is nothing even remotely new or unpredictable about this film – it treads tired beat after tired beat, full of double-crossing and character moments that don’t really define Stephanie Patrick as a memorable protagonist. That said, Lively portrays her convincingly enough to overlook that, and it’s believable that she’s been through the hell that she’s been through and nobody would want to go through what she’s experienced, with the film doing an effective job at making a point that the James Bond series often ignore; pulling the trigger is the easy part, but learning to live with it is harder.

There’s a lot of rough edges to The Rhythm Section that means the sense of rawness that the film has to it never truly goes away. It’s by no means a perfect film – but it’s certainly not a bad one, elevated by a strong lead performance with Morano bringing the same confidence that she brought to the first few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and her previous feature films, I Think We’re Alone Now and Meadowland. At the end of the day, it’s a film that feels just fine - and it's certainly undeserving of its dubious honour of having the worst wide opening weekend performance at the box-office.

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