by Rob DiCristino
Quick check-in before we start: Are we still in the golden age of television? Was that an early Aughts thing, or is it still trucking along? I’m asking for The Rhythm Section, the latest in a recent trend of films that — while certainly cinematic in their execution — feel more like extended episodes of an Amazon Original Series than something produced for the big screen. Television budgets are increasing, of course, and it’s not rare to see individual entries of a prestige series carry a larger price tag than many feature films, but The Rhythm Section feels too small for one venue and too large for the other. It’s both sprawling and claustrophobic. Both operatic and slight. None of this is the fault of accomplished cinematographer-turned-director Reed Morano (whose resumé, to be fair, includes episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Halt and Catch Fire). It’s more systemic, I think, a shift in the way creatives are approaching projects of different scope and scale. In short, the line between television and cinema is continuing to blur, and not always for the better.
Blake Lively continues to make distinct and interesting post-Gossip Girl choices, and her character here is a far cry from A Simple Favor’s manipulative Emily or The Shallows’ resilient Nancy. Buried under bruises and track marks, Lively is almost unrecognizable as the shell-shocked Stephanie. She nails the physicality of trauma survival — flinching at noises, diminutive posturing, disregard for her own well-being — while never going big with tears or outbursts. Stephanie is callused, distant from the world, and her journey here is an attempt to feel something, anything, again. Lively lets Stephanie’s inner strength build in segments as an organic byproduct of her rebirth as a super spy. It’s a strong performance that needs more opportunities for shading and conflict; Stephanie is on one path throughout the film, a path largely laid for her from the outset. There are few major choices or tests and — short of one telegraphed third act reveal — few chances to really own her new expertise.
Blue Ruin. Instead, it becomes another predictable revenge yarn: a gun, a few disguises, and a confident strut into the sunset.