Blake Lively’s latest film, “The Rhythm Section,” is oddly bereft of empathy, though her character is a young woman who has lost her whole family to a plane crash, and her life has disintegrated because of it. Director Reed Morano, whose excellent work on TV’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale” brought him to the attention of producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, is content to skim the surface of Mark Burnell’s screenplay — from his book by the same name.
And at the end, if you see the name Broccoli in the credits, you wonder if we’re not seeing the first in a long line of female Bond-like films. If we are, another screenwriter is in order.
Lively’s character, Brit Stephanie, once a happy student at Cambridge, falls into grieving despair following the deaths of her mother and father, sister and brother, aboard a plane that they hadn’t intended to fly, but changed their schedule to accommodate Stephanie’s — and she didn’t show. (Nothing exacerbates grief more than guilt.)
The film opens with visuals of the happy family, and replays one with her smiling mother, kissing her on both cheeks. The perfect family. The scene intrudes on the action so many times, I wonder that Morano didn’t add it as an attachment in the upper corner of the screen.
Stephanie becomes a heroin addict, prostituting herself to pay for it. One day she’s visited by a man named Proctor, who just wants to talk. And in her drugged haze she makes him pay for it. He tells her that the plane crash wasn’t an accident. She doesn’t believe him.
But her curiosity is piqued. She visits Proctor, whose research is all over the walls of his apartment, complete with pictures of every passenger. He tells her there was a bomb aboard, it was a terrorist attack. And the London authorities know who made the bomb, a young man named Reza. He’s a university student and they’re leaving him free to walk the streets of London in hopes of catching bigger fish,
A failed attempt to kill him herself tips Reza off that his identity is known. Stephanie finds Proctor dead, she rifles through his papers and finds a card with a name on it, someone living off the grid in Scotland, an ex MI6 agent who has been fired. Stephanie heads north and finds the hinterlands of Scotland are desolate. Enter Judd Law, as B. He tells her that Reza was hired by a radical called U-17, who had the plane downed to kill a liberal Muslim reformer named Abdul Kaif. The rest were just collateral damage. B dares Stephanie to get clean, suck it up, and train to be the assassin she needs to be if all she wants out of life is revenge. He trains her to take the identity of Petra Reuter, an assassin whom B killed and whose body was never found.
After the gloom of cloudy, rainy London and Scotland, the rest of the film is almost a travelogue of fascinating cities — Madrid, Tangier, New York, Marseilles — as Petra wends her way through brutal fights and the obligatory car chase. Frankly, I think B released Stephanie, a.k.a. Petra, too soon. Only one of her victims is a clean kill.
Lively normally plays glamorous women who wouldn’t dream of being seen in the clothes she wears in this: oversized shirts and baggy trousers. She also wears a variety of cuts and bruises, beside the dark, sunken eyes in her first phase. If you like revenge films and are a Blake Lively fan, you will find this film intriguing. I will be interested in seeing whether or not the Bond producers want to take a chance on financing a sequel after taking the $40 mil loss that’s predicted. But who knows. Maybe they’ll change directors.
Oh, and the title comes from a line by B, while he’s teaching Stephanie how to use a gun. It’s a music term, referring to musicians within a band or ensemble who provide the underlying pulse or beat of the music, always the percussionist, sometimes the guitar or keyboard. While she’s aiming at her target, B tells her to find the sweet spot between brain and heart, relax and aim.
See you at the movies.
Toni Clem is a Paris resident and has been writing Deja View for more than 30 years.