For fans of the James Bond movie series, it’s an event when the producers decide to invest — both figuratively and literally — in an outside project, because it doesn’t happen very often.
“The Rhythm Section” would seem to be right up their alley, since it’s about an assassin-in-training … which Bond effectively was in the version of “Casino Royale” that introduced Daniel Craig in the role. Even then, though, he was pretty sure of himself. That definitely is not the case for Stephanie Patrick, the character now played by Blake Lively and out for revenge upon finding out that her parents’ plane-crash deaths were not accidental.
Stephanie’s life takes some pretty dark turns in the aftermath of her family tragedy, but after getting relevant information from a reporter (Raza Jaffrey, good to see on the big screen after turns on such television series as “Smash” and “Code Black”), she pulls herself together and seeks mentoring in the killing game a CIA veteran played by Jude Law (getting solid mileage from his gift of suggesting that more lies beneath his surface).
The catch to “The Rhythm Section” — and it’s a big one — is that Stephanie is not remotely as ready for action as she might think she is. On numerous occasions, she ends up as a deer in the headlights as she tries to face off against enemies, some of whom come very close to putting her out of business for good. Of course, that can’t be allowed to happen, since you’d have only about a 20-minute movie; still, she has to be the luckiest person still alive to escape peril after peril.
To that end, Lively earns respect for obviously taking her blows here. In a good number of the action scenes, it’s very visibly her doing her own stunts, and she didn’t emerge unscathed; one mishap during filming sidelined her for a while and forced production to be paused. It’s a measure of the actress continuing to move beyond her “Gossip Girl” association, and she can add this challenge to the ones she’s embraced in such projects as “Savages,” “The Shallows” and “A Simple Favor.”
“This Is Us” Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown also is in the cast assembled for director Reed Morano, who made a mark (and also won an Emmy) by guiding early episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “The Rhythm Section” is based on one of several novels about Patrick by Mark Burnell, and while it’s far from certain that the others will be adapted, the one existing example supplies enough entertainment thanks to its expert makers and a sufficiently game star.