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Paramount Pictures

Adding to the fine tradition of tales in which an everyday average Joe is pushed past their breaking point (Death Wish, Peppermint, The Brave One, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), Paramount Pictures presents The Rhythm Section, a spy origin story about Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), an assassin who isn’t very good at killing.

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Mark Burnell’s Stephanie Patrick spy novel series (this film is based on the first) debuted in 1999, so maybe that explains Rhythm Section’s dated anti-terrorism plot. But the involvement of two James Bond producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, led to speculation that this film could be the start of a new, woman-led spy franchise. Alas, this is a spy movie in which a woman James Bond isn’t very good at killing, tradecraft, or anything other than looking sad. But SHE IS SO GOOD AT LOOKING SAD.

The Rhythm Section opens on Patrick nostalgically watching camera phone video of her family—her parents and siblings—who died in a plane crash. A drug user and a sex worker, Patrick has all but given up on life, but when journalist Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) tells her he's uncovered a conspiracy about her family’s death, she's filled with vengeful vigor. Why Proctor brings this information to Patrick is never explained. Why he offers her keys to his house is not only a mystery, but a repeating narrative device. Throughout the course of the film, Patrick looks at men sadly THREE TIMES, and each time the man in question offers her food and shelter, no questions asked.

Patrick limps around the first part of the film looking for revenge, slowly transitioning into recovery with the help of an ex-M16 operative (Jude Law) and eventually finding her rhythm section (it was in her heart all along). What’s weird about Rhythm Section is that, much like Patrick being a sex worker but never doing sex work, she turns out to be an assassin who doesn’t murder very much. I get that it’s her origin story and it’s supposed to be gritty, but whenever she's trying to kill someone, they just sort of trip and then... die, like they're in a Looney Tunes cartoon? I could speculate endlessly about why this might be: Did Lively's PR team request to keep her image bloodless? Is this some weird attempt to make Patrick's character less threatening to male audiences? There has to be some middle ground between a protagonist who goes from vegetarian yoga instructor to cold, hardened killer in a 15-minute montage and Patrick’s solid hour and 50 minutes of depressed gun fumbling.


There has to be some middle ground between a protagonist who goes from vegetarian yoga instructor to cold, hardened killer in a 15-minute montage and Patrick’s solid hour and 50 minutes of depressed gun fumbling.



Thanks to director Reed Morano and cinematographer Sean Bobbit, Rhythm Section almost puts on enough of a glossy cinematic show to disguise the film's glaring plot holes and creepy infantilization of its central character. Fuzzy, sensorial scenes and transitions apply a haze to the story's events—to the point where I’m not 100 percent sure Patrick actually had sex with her informant, Serra (Sterling K. Brown), or if that was a visual poem (?) about them looking at one another.

Rhythm Section succeeds on an atmospheric level, to such a degree that it approaches elegance—too bad the dated script is just regular ol' self-reliance porn that ends up being too sexist to even do that properly.

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The Rhythm Section is now playing at various theaters.

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