Release Date(s)2020 (April 28, 2020)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
The Rhythm Section is a thriller involving terrorism, revenge, and shady characters. Patterned on the James Bond and Jason Bourne spy flicks, with strong influences from Red Sparrow and La Femme Nikita, it’s the globe-trotting quest of a broken individual to find and exact the ultimate vengeance.
Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), a young British woman, has fallen into a life of drugs and prostitution after losing her entire family in a plane crash. Still haunted by memories of her family, she sees periodic flashbacks of them all together in happier times. Two years after the crash, a journalist approaches her with evidence that the crash was the result of terrorism.
The evidence purports that an engineering student in London named Reza (Tawfeek Barhom) is the mastermind behind the bomb that killed her family. She also learns that a spy, Boyd (Jude Law), is involved in the case. She tracks him down at his cottage in the Scottish countryside and he fills her in on the details of the attack.
Determined to avenge the deaths of her family, Stephanie is obsessed with killing those responsible. Boyd trains her in brutal hand-to-hand combat, sharpens her marksmanship, forces her to swim across a lake in freezing weather, and focuses her on the dangers ahead.
Stephanie’s training, which makes up a good portion of the film, is rough. Boyd pummels her in simulated life-or-death situations that look very real. He hardens her physically and emotionally before sending her out into the field, which includes Madrid, New York, Tangier, and Marseilles. The teacher/student role is played for awkward laughs from time to time, throwing off the serious tone of the rest of the film, as Stephanie becomes more confident and pushes back against Boyd’s training abuse.
Though the film could have been an exciting spy thriller, it comes off as rather insipid. Lively’s performance is flat. The actress never immerses herself fully in the role and goes through the entire film with a single expression of “don’t mess with me” iciness. To get close to her victims Stephanie wears a few disguises and adopts different personas, but they never look sufficiently convincing. Lively lacks self-assurance and fails to engage the viewer enough to really care.
The script doesn’t help. It coasts on clichés and never musters enough originality to raise the film above other spy sagas. Director Reed Moreno has incorporated some good action sequences but there are too few of them. Rather than maintaining a brisk pace, the film bogs down in places and becomes overly talky. It loses steam when Stephanie enters into a romance with a contact (Sterling K. Brown) who may have important information. This relationship seems entirely wrong and is poorly developed.
Audiences like a good villain, but The Rhythm Section spends little screen time on Reza. When the film should slow down a bit so we can understand his motivations and backstory, Reza is treated rather like a prop, with little character embellishment.
On the plus side, the cinematography by Sean Bobbitt is excellent, with a sepia-like filter applied to the flashback sequences to give them a kind of glow, reflecting Stephanie’s constant, longing memories of her lost family. Bobbitt’s multi-angled filming of a car chase with exciting tracking shots is a highlight of the film.
The Blu-ray release from Paramount Pictures, featuring 1080p High Definition, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Details are well defined. Individual whiskers in Boyd’s beard, patterns in clothing, and street signs are distinct. Blacks are deep and rich, and the color palette varies by location. The brothel we see early in the film is shoddy and run-down, reflecting Stephanie’s state of mind at the time. Yellow light through curtains is the dominant color. Stephanie’s bruises are apparent through her skimpy underwear. At Boyd’s cottage, the sky is overcast and the look is deeply shadowed and moody. Shots within the cottage are dimly lit. The Madrid sequences feature bright sunlight and blue skies. The car chase is beautifully edited, with many shots shown from Stephanie’s point of view from inside her car. The flashbacks showing us Stephanie’s family in happy moments are characterized by diffused, desaturated color, reminiscent of sepia, that distinguishes them from the present-day action.
Soundtrack options include English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio, English described, Spanish, and French. Subtitle options include English (for the hearing impaired), Spanish, and French. Dialogue is clear throughout, with ambient sound well balanced. Gun shots are very loud and sound realistic. In the claustrophobic fight scenes between Stephanie and Boyd, the sounds of grunting, bodies thrown against objects and hitting the floor, objects breaking, and cries of pain, are intense and lengthy. A climactic explosion, one of the film’s major set pieces, completely immerses the viewer with its thunderous concussion. Sound mixing in the car chase is exceptional. Screeching tires, objects being hit at high speed, car windows shattering from gunfire, Stephanie’s terrified utterances, and the car sliding precariously add considerable excitement.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc R-rated Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted and extended scenes and 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes. A Digital code on a paper insert is included in the packaging.
Stephanie’s Journey – Blake Lively and director Reed Moreno discuss Stephanie’s backstory and her transformation from drug-addicted prostitute to spy. She has to make a mental journey and “Boyd had to clean her up” to make sure she doesn’t crack under pressure.
Fight or Flight – Director Moreno notes that “everything is messy” because Stephanie is not a professional spy and is learning as she goes along. Because she sometimes fails, there’s a sense of realism. Her training is brutal. One extended fight scene was done in a single take. Behind-the-scenes rehearsals of fight scenes are shown.
Never Leave Second Gear – In the car chase sequence, the goal was to make the viewer feel what it would be like to be in the situations depicted. The car chase was carefully planned and coordinated. A stunt driver in a cage atop the car is actually driving while Lively, inside the car, pretends to drive.
One Shot Explosion – An elaborate explosion on a bus was filmed in one take. We see the charges being placed. To film Stephanie running from the bus, the camera operator had to run backwards. Lively had to be at least fifty feet away from the source of the explosion. Lightweight “debris” was used so that flying pieces would not injure cast and crew and damage surrounding property.
Designing The Rhythm Section – Production designer Tom Condry discusses how light varies from one location to the next. The locations in Ireland (standing in for Scotland) were dark and moody. In Madrid, sunlight bounced off buildings. Three locations are discussed—the brothel, Boyd’s cottage, and a luxurious house in Tangier. The designs were geared to reflect something about the character.
Deleted and Extended Scenes – Six scenes cut or trimmed from the final version of the film are included: Where’s His Money?; Why Did You Come for Me?; Promise; The Bag; This Is Your Funeral; and My Name Is Stephanie.
– Dennis Seuling