Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

The title of the new thriller The Rhythm Section refers to a person’s nerves as they attempt to do something disturbing, scary, and maybe against their moral center—something like killing another person. “Think of your heart as the drums; your breathing as the bass,” Jude Law’s former MI6 agent explains to Blake Lively’s revenge-seeker early on in the film. You’ve got to stay calm, be still, and keep your rhythm section under control. Only then can you achieve your goal, which is the easy part. Living with what you have done, that is the hard part.

Lively plays Stephanie Patrick, a middle-class young woman whose life is turned upside down when her entire family is killed in a plane crash. Driven to drugs by the guilt of knowing that her family had changed their flight for her to join them, only for her to decide that she did not want to go, Stephanie is soon prostituting herself to earn money for her new addiction. She has hit rock bottom when a journalist approaches her and tells her that it wasn’t just a crash, but a terrorist bomb that destroyed her family.

This revelation leads Stephanie to the middle of Scotland where she meets up with Law’s agent. After helping her overcome her addiction with some tough love, Law becomes something of a sadistic Mr. Miyagi, and trains her to be an assassin. Once he thinks she is ready, he sends her to his contact in Tangier, a man who can feed her the identity and location of the terrorists involved in the plot that killed her family.

rhythm section inset

Blake Lively plays the lead

Based on the first in a series of Stephanie Patrick novels by author Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay, The Rhythm Section strives to fit into the Taken mold and pulls it off fairly well. The highlights of the film are a couple of long-take action sequences, the first of which is filmed entirely from within the vehicle that Stephanie is using to try to escape the security force of her first kill. It is an extended chase in which the camera stays with her as she speeds around corners, weaves through traffic, and even once is pushed down a hill. All this while the camera is spinning around between Stephanie, her pursuers, and the extensive collateral damage being left in their wake. It is an intense and thrilling sequence, even if the device means that you never forget for a second that you are watching a movie.

The second of these action sequences follows Stephanie through the streets of Marseille as she pursues a bomb maker and his suicide vest-wearing accomplice. The device is less obvious in this sequence, which ultimately leads Stephanie into an enclosed, but populated space, not much unlike the one in which her family was murdered. This is one of those movie scenes that will probably work a lot better for those people who did not already have it spoiled for them by the trailer, but it is still thrilling nonetheless.

Blake Lively performed most of her own stunts while making this film, which ultimately led to it being delayed when she had to recover from a hand she shattered while rehearsing a fight scene with Law. Her dedication pays off, though, as she is completely believable in the movie’s action scenes. That said, it takes some suspension of disbelief to buy that her character, recently detoxed and struggling just to jog, could swim an entire Loch in the cold of Scotland without dying of hypothermia and/or drowning.

As entertaining as the movie’s action set-pieces are, it feels like we are missing one more when the film rushes quickly to its conclusion. Just as we think things are really getting going—boom!—we’ve confronted the big bad and dive right into the epilogue. The bigger picture of the ongoing terrorist plot is also hard to see as the movie really limits its focus to what is right in front of our main character. We receive bits and pieces of information that might fit together better with multiple viewings, but on first watch, you just kind of have to go with it.

The Rhythm Section is directed by Reed Morano, a cinematographer-turned-director probably best known as a director for her Emmy-winning work on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Her cinematography background certainly shows in this movie’s well-shot action scenes, and she keeps the tension ratcheted up throughout. It had my rhythm section going.

The Rhythm Section opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Renton Landing.