The Rhythm Section Movie Review: A fine thriller-drama that shows us the human in the assassin
The intrigue, the pacing, the unpredictability, the music, and the vulnerability of the main character — put them all together, and you get one fine thriller-drama
Rarely does the assassin genre delve deep into the innate humanness of its protagonist, let alone show her as fallible for the most part. The Rhythm Section blends the intensity of Blake Lively’s central performance with a deft script that keeps you guessing all the time.
The title of the film references an oft-repeated tenet of disgraced MI-6 operative Boyd as he trains a green-behind-the-ears Stephanie Patrick. “You’ve got your breathing all wrong,” he says, as she attempts to fire a pistol. “Think of the heart as the drums, and the breathing as the bass.”
A young woman strung out on drugs in a London brothel attempting to escape from the irreparable loss of her family, an infamous plane crash that has more to it than meets the eye, a dogged journalist looking for leads into a possible terror attack, an unknown source with vital intelligence holed up in the back of beyond, a creator of the explosive device that detonated onboard the aircraft, and a murky web of deceit that brings them all in contact with one another. This may seem like the makings of a cliché, but truth be told The Rhythm Section is far from your run-of-the-mill action thriller. It has depth and nuance rarely accorded to others in the genre. It is unpredictable and intense, and for that, we have the writing and acting to thank. One of the aspects that aids the film is its pitch-perfect pacing.
But the most memorable feature of this revenge thriller is the emotional depth accorded to its lead character. Her backstory isn’t dealt with in much detail; all it takes is four or five short, silent montages of her family (played on loop through the story) for the audience to get an understanding of her situation in life. Through the film, she goes from unstable and vulnerable to cold and determined, and yet, it is never ever a total switch. Just when you think her transformation is complete, the film springs a surprise. Even in her most vengeful moments, she is far too human for one not to relate. The Rhythm Section did remind me a bit of Hanna, but while the eponymous lead character of the latter (played by a fantastic Saoirse Ronan) is almost devoid of emotion, Stephanie cannot seem to escape the full range of her suffering.
The cinematography is quite spectacular. The scenes in Scotland (Stephanie travelling by bus and Boyd’s cabin by the lake) are nothing short of amazing. Steve Mazzaro’s score (the heartbeats, the melodies, and the music) not only captures the tense and foreboding moments well, it succeeds in making you empathise with Stephanie’s trauma and actions too.
While it has much going for it, there are instances in the film that are worth questioning. There is no explanation as to how the freelance journalist finds Stephanie in the brothel, a full three years after the plane crash. Despite having the source’s coordinates, it seems rather implausible that Stephanie should find Boyd’s location so easily even after being dropped off in the middle of nowhere by the bus. And finally, Boyd’s training of his ward, though rigorous and thorough, is too short and unrealistic for someone with severe addiction; they should at least have shown her detoxing before attempting to run, train, and shoot a gun.
In spite of these glitches and the under-utilisation of the fine acting prowess of Sterling K Brown, The Rhythm Section scores high points all around. The car chases, sequences of hand-to-hand combat, exchanges of gunfire, and explosions are extremely realistic. But it is the fallibility of the main character that impresses the most. And this is where The Rhythm Section succeeds in showing us the real human behind the one with a gun in her hand. She may have it in her to kill and seek revenge, but do not be fooled – she is as emotionally fragile and imperfect as the rest of us.