Why tough Blake Lively is let down by her own movie
- Hollywood’s former hellraisers go from wild to mild
- Want to eat Baby Yoda? You must use the forks …
BLAKE Lively goes rogue in vengeance thriller The Rhythm Section and must-watch The Assistant explores the silent victims of men like Harvey Weinstein.
THE RHYTHM SECTION
Director: Reed Morano
Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law
Running time: 110 minutes
Verdict: Revenge thriller misses the beat
From Charlize Theron in Monster to Nicole Kidman in Destroyer — Hollywood beauties relish the chance to show their acting chops in gritty, anti-vanity projects.
Blake Lively unhesitatingly follows their lead in this female-driven revenge thriller. But while the one-time Gossip Girl commits herself utterly to her role as a dead-eyed avenger, the film lacks the necessary backbone to support her.
After losing her entire family in a plane crash, former Oxford University student Stephanie Patrick (Lively) has been crippled by survivor’s guilt.
The once-promising linguist is barely subsisting as a sex worker. She uses heroin to numb the pain. (As one of The Rhythm Section’s characters tartly observes, in a line that tries — and fails — to absolve the filmmakers of responsibility, Patrick is basically a walking cliche.)
A series of flashbacks highlight the sharp juxtaposition between the central character’s abject existence “now” and her warm, idyllic family life “then”.
Her once long blonde locks have been shorn into a ragged crop and the beaming smile of “before” has been replaced by a hollow gaze.
Three years after Patrick’s life fell apart, a freelance journalist named Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) tracks her down to a seedy brothel to inform her that the plane crash wasn’t an accident, as she had been told, but the result of a terrorist attack that has been covered up by the higher echelons of the British government.
Proctor wants Patrick’s help in telling the story.
But the surly, self-destructive addict can’t see past her own grief. Lively portrays her post-plane crash character as a desperate feral animal
Patrick burns her Good Samaritan in a rash, ill-conceived — and ultimately tragic — attempt to take justice into her own hands.
So far, so interesting.
There’s a “take no prisoners” approach to these early scenes that chaffs interestingly against gender conventions and Lively doesn’t hold anything back.
But as events progress, the filmmakers limit themselves — and their leading lady — by falling back on hackneyed genre conventions.
Jude Law’s one-note performance as a disgraced MI6 agent doesn’t help, although his character’s remote hideout in the Scottish Highlands successfully contributes to the film’s bleak and brutal atmosphere.
Directed by Reed Morano, from screenwriter Mark Burnell’s adaptation of his own novel, The Rhythm Section, can’t decide whether it wants to follow in the traditions of a post-Bourne espionage thriller, a la Angelina Jolie’s Salt, or whether it’s aiming for a more naturalistic, character-driven spin on the action genre, such as Kidman’s Destroyer.
Stuck in the middle, it fails to create a world in which Patrick’s transition from university student to cold-blooded assassin is plausible.
Lively gives her character a weight that the screenplay is too flimsy to carry.
The Rhythm Section is now available via digital release
Three and a half stars
Director: Kitty Green
Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen
Running time: 87 minutes
Verdict: Quietly explosive
The unnamed Boss – clearly modelled on disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein – doesn’t make a physical appearance in writer-director Kitty Green’s compelling indie drama.
But his behavior infects the entire office, which conversely, also provides a fertile environment in which it can breed.
Such is the moral complexity of The Assistant, which explores sexual politics from an overlooked yet uniquely qualified perspective — that of a silent, or rather silenced, witness.
The young female graduate who has recently landed her “dream” job in a boutique, New York film production company is hardly immune to the workplace harassment. But in contrast to the headline-making stories of sexual violence and abuse, Jane (Julia Garner) experiences quieter, more insidious forms of discrimination.
The two male assistants with whom she shares an office basically ignore her, unless she orders the wrong sandwich for lunch.
Jane’s female superiors also barely acknowledge her presence, although one does offer what in this environment passes for a few words of support when they share a lift together late one evening.
“Don’t worry, you’re not his type”.
Even when he’s not in the office, the Boss’s assistants are in a state of hyper-vigilance.
Clearly capable, but already browbeaten, Jane physically flinches every time she sees it’s him – or his wife – on the line.
Perceived misdemeanors demand groveling, written apologies, which must end with an acknowledgment of how privileged she is to work for the company.
Even Jane’s unwitting parents reinforce how lucky she is to have secured the job.
The film opens in the wee hours of the morning. A driver picks Jane up from a modest apartment in Queens and ferries her to Downtown Manhattan.
It’s her job to turn on the lights, stock up the photocopier machine, and scrub any stains off the boss’s couch before the rest of the staff arrive.
Jane sucks up her temporary demotion to babysitter when the Boss’s entitled wife bursts into the office. And she doesn’t react when her cavalier colleagues assume she will do their dishes for them.
But after being asked to ferry a naive young “assistant” to a five-star hotel, she feels like she must draw a line in the sand.
Her visit to an oily HR manager, played by Matthew Macfadyen with just the right note of paternalistic menace, leaves her in no doubt as to her institutional powerlessness.
How did men like Weinstein get away with it for so long?
The Assistant counts the ways, while making it clear that many still do.
The Assistant is now available to rent via Foxtel on Demand. It will be available to rent on demand via multiple platforms from June 10.
95 minutes (M)
Kirsten Stewart is more than a match for Underwater’s malevolent, Jules Verne-style sea monster.
Formerly known as a Twilight star, the 29-year-old actress continues to reinvent herself with this brutally efficient deep-sea disaster movie.
The ice-blonde buzz cut Stewart sports for the new role leaves her with nowhere to hide.
She meets that challenge with a luminous performance that relegates the mythic leviathan that is hunting her to more of a supporting role.
Which is why Underwater works better as an ocean floor thriller than it does as a creepy creature feature – director William Eubank doesn’t have Ridley Scott’s talent for conjuring visceral terror from a limited budget (despite a clear debt, here, to Alien.)
Underwater now available via digital release and DVD
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL
Two and a half stars
119 minutes (PG)
In the first film, Angelina Jolie made it clear that for generations, storytellers had been focusing on the wrong character.
And there are glimpses of that ground-breaking shift in thus sequel — in a close-up of the black stubble at the base of Maleficent’s wings, for example, or in her angry, fluorescent green outbursts.
But for the most part, the titular character is restrained by the narrative equivalent of the black scarf she is persuaded to cover her horns with during a visit to her respective in-laws.
Repeated “humorous” references to Maleficent’s inability to smile are pretty much all Jolie has to work with.
To all intents and purposes, the character has been defanged.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is now showing on Disney+media_camera
Originally published as Blake Lively let down by her own movie
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