From an ethical perspective, converting from a prostitute to an assassin might seem like a lateral career move. But for the protagonist in The Rhythm Section, the latter is clearly more financially and psychologically rewarding.
The cryptic title evidently refers to a Zen-like state in which the heartbeat represents the drum and breathing is the bass. It’s supposed to fuel our heroine’s journey toward redemption and catharsis.
However, while this far-fetched espionage thriller is filled with the usual shadowy characters and exotic locales, it never provides sufficient incentive for emotional investment in the outcome.
Elizabeth (Blake Lively) adopts multiple aliases during the movie, which is understandable. After the deaths of her parents in a plane crash precipitated a downward spiral, she’s now a junkie sex worker in London.
Her latest customer (Raza Jaffrey) turns out to be a journalist who informs her that the plane was brought down deliberately by terrorists, and provides a clue to their whereabouts. Motivated for revenge, Elizabeth connects with a former secret agent (Jude Law) who prepares her for battle at a remote cabin in the Scottish highlands.
Once she’s ready to track down the perpetrators, she crosses paths with a rogue ex-CIA operative (Sterling K. Brown) who seems eager to help but might have something else in mind.
As directed by Reed Morano (I Think We’re Alone Now), the film features some stylish flourishes while minimizing the potential intrigue in favor of clichés about vengeance and female empowerment straight out of La Femme Nikita.
Lively’s performance is committed in terms of the requisite de-glamorization and demanding physical preparation. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get much help from rookie screenwriter Mark Burnell, who adapted his own novel in a way that is so intent on withholding motives and circumstances that it feels more manipulative than moving.
Plus, The Rhythm Section is both convoluted and overly simplistic in portraying Stephanie’s transformation. Mere moments after lying in a drug-induced stupor on a bathroom floor, she’s rifling through top-secret files on potential terrorists. Later, she navigates a daring escape in a car on some crowded city streets, jets between continents donning various wigs and disguises, and commands the prowess of a highly trained fighting machine.
It all serves to set up a perfunctory big twist and final showdown — lacking the same resilience and resourcefulness that Stephanie showcases in spades.