Earlier this month, longtime James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli confirmed there would never be a female Bond. She instead urged audiences to get behind new characters for women, who could be just as interesting in their own right.
Broccoli’s name is now on the credits of The Rhythm Section, director Reed Morano’s (The Handmaid’s Tale) big screen adaptation of Mark Burnell’s novel of the same name. Blake Lively plays Stephanie Patrick, the Not Bond™ hero mourning and avenging her family who died on a flight she was also supposed to be on (Why wasn’t she? That doesn’t seem to be important). Importantly, former Oxford student Stephanie enjoyed a close relationship with her parents and two siblings, as shown in the blurry flashback scenes which regularly punctuate the present-day action.
There are four central characters in The Rhythm Section: Stephanie, Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), the journalist who finds Stephanie by posing as a client in the London brothel she works in, Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown), a shifty contact in cahoots with the elusive threat Stephanie is tracking down, and B, Proctor’s main source and ally hiding out in the Scottish mountains. That’s Jude Law.
It’s a straightforward setup, but the narrative somewhat jumbles relationships and neglects the motivations of all those who aren’t Stephanie. This gives Lively, who’s pushing herself to physical extremes reminiscent of Nicole Kidman in recent detective thriller Destroyer, plenty to do – including actually mastering a British accent.
Elsewhere, there are some issues with the music, which on a film called The Rhythm Section, grates somewhat. The score, by Steve Mazzaro who recently wrote the music for, ahem, The Boss Baby, is inescapable and often oppressive – Hans Zimmer is credited as an executive music producer, which makes sense in early scenes that sound like the climactic moments of sci-fi epic Interstellar.
The most puzzling moments of The Rhythm Section’s sound design come from the needle drops – inserting the Velvet Underground one moment, Roy Orbison the next. Perhaps this taps into the characters’ affection for rhythms the title suggests, but shallow character development makes it feel like an episode of Desert Island Discs (songs are truncated in the podcast version) – sans interviews. The robust performances are then weighed down by boring dialogue and superficial world-building, preventing once-promising ideas from reaching fruition.
The Rhythm Section does acknowledge its debt to the spy-thriller genre, most satisfyingly when B points out to Stephanie: “Drugs, prostitution. It’s a cliché. You’re a cliché.” He’s right, but there are too few other moments of self-awareness to propel the story into a credible realm of its own. Morano’s mysterious blockbuster offers a well-paced, smartly designed recycling of familiar tropes. That’s all it is, though. Broccoli has asked the world to support brilliant new female characters – but hasn’t quite given us one here.
- Director: Reed Morano
- Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown
- Release date: 31 January 2020