The Rhythm Section


            In the wake of a great personal tragedy, people respond differently to grief.  Sometimes it depends on whether there's any guilt involved, secret or otherwise.  Some people want to start a campaign to help other victims.  Some people retreat into themselves. 

            Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) was one of those.  She was supposed to be on that plane, with the rest of her family---her father, mother, and two siblings, but she, in a moment of pique, decided not to go.  They went without her.  And they all died in the crash.

            Stephanie is beyond devastated.  Formerly a top student at Oxford, now she's on drugs, and hooking to support her habit.  She's a mess, and headed downhill quickly, seemingly hell-bent on joining the rest of her family.  Then one day a “john” says he just wants to talk.  He says he knows who she is.  He claims he's an investigative journalist, and he's concluded that the airplane crash was no accident; there was a bomb.  But for some reason, the authorities are covering that up.  Would Stephanie like to know more about it?

            At first, no.  She's too stoned and wallowing in a stupor of self-loathing to care about anything.  But something brings her out of the fog long enough to find out a little bit about what he knows, including a mysterious contact in Inverness.  It's there that she meets a former MI6 agent (Jude Law) who never even bothers to introduce himself.  But he does bother to put her through some rigorous training.  If she's really serious about wanting to investigate, she better be prepared for some rough treatment.

            He's not wrong.  Stephanie finds herself wandering deeper into a dark labyrinth of spies, secrets, shady intermediaries, and desperate people who will gladly shoot first and ask questions later.  She doesn't learn everything at once.  She hesitates a couple of times when she shouldn't, and she pays dearly for her uncertainty. 

            But there's good reason for her to pause and reflect on who she's becoming.  It hits her when she sees children—--she's getting farther and farther removed from their naivete and innocence.  She's reaching inside herself to find reservoirs of that coldest, most calculating form of hate, revenge.

            Based on the book by Mark Burnell, the substantial plot keeps the viewer careening through Stephanie's dark metamorphosis.  It isn't pretty.  But it is riveting, like staring at a train wreck.  And it's about as subtle.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association