When people think of underrated actresses, Black Lively usually isn’t the first name that comes to mind. After all, Lively is a bankable leading lady who’s anything but obscure. People something forget, however, that there’s a lot more to this performer than her Gossip Girl roots. From a surfer fighting for her life in The Shallows to a socialite with a secret in A Simple Favor, Lively has proven that she possesses great range as an actress. For whatever reason, though, half of her filmography consists of amnesia movies. Savages, The Age of Adaline, All I See Is You, these are just okay movies that you see once and quickly forget about. Then maybe somewhere down the line you remember, “oh yeah, Black Lively was in that.” The Rhythm Section is another middle-of-the-road film with a solid performance from Lively at its core, but an unstable script that doesn’t quite support her.
Lively plays Stephanie Patrick, a young woman who lost her family in a plane crash. This tragedy takes such a toll on Stephanie that she falls into prostitution and drugs. Already, this setup is a bit convoluted. Everyone processes grief in different ways, but Stephanie goes from studying at Oxford to living in a brothel within just three years. Doesn’t she have any friends, neighbors, or even extended family who could help her out? For that matter, how did somehow who could afford to attend Oxford suddenly be next to penniless? Wouldn’t her parents have left behind a small fortune? The film doesn’t take any time to flesh out Stephanie’s downfall and the most we see of her family is condescend into brief flashbacks. So immediately off the bat, The Rhythm Section feels forced.
Nevertheless, there is an intriguing premise here. Stephanie learns from a journalist (Raza Jaffrey) that the plane crash was no accident. She sets out to track down those responsible for the attack, gaining an unlikely ally in a former MI6 agent named Ian (Jude Law). At an isolated cabin in the freezing woods, Ian teaches Stephanie the skills she’ll need to take out the assassins. In something of a refreshing twist, Stephanie doesn’t instantly become the next Black Widow overnight. The film takes its time as she learns the ropes and gains the confidence needed to end a person’s life. All the while, Likely sells it as a beaten down woman who’s in over her head, but is nonetheless willing to put everything on the line.
That being said, The Rhythm Section can at times feel like an overly long training montage. More of this time could’ve been dedicated to fleshing out Stephanie’s backstory. There’s also a romance between her and a man named Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown) that’s underdeveloped, amounting to a final destination that doesn’t feel entirely earned. By the time we actually get to see Stephanie in the field, the action is rather by-the-numbers. Director Reed Morano, who started out as a cinematographer, has exemplified his strong visual eye in projects like The Handmaid’s Tale, but there’s nothing especially visually interesting about The Rhythm Section.
Where the action drags, the plot is all over the map in terms of pacing. Some movies are too slow while others are too rushed. This movie somehow manages to feel sluggish and hurried at the exact same time. How ironic that a film called The Rhythm Section would be so off-beat. The picture comes close to working whenever Lively gets things back on tempo. If only everyone else could match her harmony.