The Rhythm Section movie poster

The Rhythm Section

In theaters January 31, 2020


, ,

109 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

You can see what The Rhythm Section is trying to do: take a woman, break her and rebuild her into an aimless killing machine bent on revenge.

Stephanie (Blake Lively) is not coping well with the death of her family in a terrorist explosion of their commercial flight. She’s become a sex worker and addicted to drugs when approached by a journalist (Raza Jaffrey) about that tragic day. And this is where the movie begins to fray (so soon into the film) because other than being a former Oxford College student turning tricks to support her drug habit; she’s fairly unremarkable. What she could possibly add to a three-year-old terrorist bombing? Impulsive actions and more tragic circumstances lead her to B (Jude Law), former MI-6 and generally, lone gunman, who reluctantly takes her under his wing (…why…?) to train her to become an assassin (…but…?) to take out the suspected terrorist (… aren’t there…?). It only takes eight months to break her drug habit and become a finely honed killing machine.

Who knew? I’ve been running for six years and can’t break a sub-30 5K. Maybe I should have tried heroin first.

What follows is an over-complicated side trip through a few murders for hire and some gathering of intestinal fortitude. For a movie that has all of the earmarks of Grrl-Power, Stephanie takes orders exclusively from men, getting clean, getting her hands dirty, and leaving a trail of bodies in her wake. Women can only be strong and formidable when everything they love is ripped away, right? This entire experience is supposed to make her strong and independent, except when she makes independent decisions, she manages to find new and exciting ways to make things far more complicated.

Because of the flashbacks, told in soundless snippets and gauzy fade-ins, strung-out Stephanie refuses to feel anything but guilt and only in disconnected snaps. The Rhythm Section never allows understanding of the depth of Stephanie’s pain because she’s shooting and fighting and running from one job to another, proving both how much she thinks she cares and how much she only cares for how broken she thinks she is.

Sterling K Brown is in this as a black-market information broker, and somehow, she ends up taking orders from him, and the more bodies she racks up, the murkier her relationships and her missions become. It’s a mess on the viewing end, too. You have an idea someone is setting her up, but who it is, becomes a lazy side note when the action ramps up about the two-thirds mark – way too deep for an action movie. The junkie-turned-007 goes her own way, which isn’t her own way because she doesn’t know what that way is, but eventually, she gets there, I guess.

It doesn’t help that the first third of The Rhythm Section is the painfully slow setup, and Stephanie is presented as broken, then further broken, and then broken just a wee bit more before training to be betrayed and broken again. Nothing about this film is uplifting and the leaps in logic and information from “sources” and “contacts” who are never wrong and have zero problems spilling that info to ex-MI6. I know this is a fantasy/action/thriller movie, but maybe a smidge of reality would be a nice touch.

Ultimately, it lacks anything like resolution or redemption, since The Rhythm Section is the first of a series of Stephanie Patrick COMPLICATED KILLING MACHINE books (not really the title). Perhaps something is lost in the translation from the novel, by Mark Burnell, to screen, as the Stephanie Patrick of the stories becomes a chameleon to infiltrate and take down her targets. Still, this screen version is just a woman half-playing at dress-up with guns and terrorists. For a woman lost to grief and drugs, she never finds much more than bullets and death. That’s not finding herself or redemption. If this was meant to be the beginning of a series of movies, I don’t think it’s going to attract the kind of attention it thinks it deserves. I would watch Jennifer Garner in any number of Peppermint (2019) sequels before committing to another second of a potential Blake Lively-led Stephanie Patrick series. I can’t imagine watching something so soulless as a directionless assassin on purpose.

The Rhythm Section is rated R for people getting the crap beat out of them, people being drugged, people being suffocated, explosions, people being shot (at), implied executions, violent action, and lots of running.

The Rhythm Section is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.


  1. Just finished the movie….What’s missing about these crazy characters that Blake Lively plays is experience but what actor does now a days without fucking up their career. This movie was all over the place and messy youre right. It had a “la femme Nikita, Alias, Point of no Return vibe.

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