GOD’S COUNTRY (2022) – Powerful Drama Uses Subtlety to Ratchet Up Tension

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GOD’S COUNTRY (2022) is a slow-burn thriller that grows stronger the longer it goes on, using subtlety to ratchet up the tension the way other lesser-made movies use violence to do the same. As such, it’s a refreshing and resounding drama that packs a punch from start to finish.

What GOD’S COUNTRY has to say, that racial disparities and violence against women continue to be unchanged is disturbing, mostly because it is hard to argue that the movie is wrong.

Figuratively, the film plays out like a western of old, only the protagonist is a woman of color, alone on the prairie, dealing with bad men with guns, pushed to the limit, until she has to stoop to their level, like a classic gunfighter of yesteryear, and beat the villains at their own game. But GOD’S COUNTRY isn’t a “western,” nor an action movie, but a drama about a college professor dealing with both subtle racism and in-your-face violence.

It’s a masterful story and movie well worth the price of a movie ticket.

GOD’S COUNTRY takes place in beautiful western Montana, “God’s country,” where college professor Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) has recently moved from New Orleans, and with the passing of her mother, she is grieving. She lives alone with her dog in a farmhouse with stunning mountains and wilderness all around her. One morning after her morning jog, she finds a red pickup truck parked in her driveway. Her employer and dean at the college Arthur (Kai Lennox) tells her not to worry about it, that it probably just belongs to some hunters, and they never bother anyone.

But Sandra takes offense to their parking on her property, and when the truck is parked there again, she leaves a note asking for them not to park on her property. But they ignore her request, even after she speaks to them in person, and when they shoot an arrow into her front door, she calls the police. Acting sheriff Wolf (Jeremy Bobb) tries to tell Sandra that things are different in Montana than in New Orleans, and that most of the time, these issues are solved not by calling the police, but by the folks themselves. But Sandra says she feels threatened, and so against his better judgment Wolf agrees to talk to the two men. Sandra insists on going with him, which doesn’t make the situation any easier.

They meet the first man Nathan (Joris Jarsky) at his job, and he takes offense at Sandra being there with Wolf, and he worries that Wolf’s presence there in the store will cost him his job, which Wolf assures him it will not. Nathan reluctantly agrees not to park in Sandra’s driveway anymore. But when they visit the second man, Samuel (Jefferson White), the more unpredictable of the two, at his place of work, cutting down pine trees, they find themselves in the forest suddenly surrounded by hostile men wielding chainsaws, in one of the movie’s most riveting scenes, men who refuse to listen to Wolf, because, as we find out, the former sheriff is on a leave of absence for shooting and killing one of the men’s brothers, and so they do not trust the police at all. It’s Sandra who steps up and offers her sympathy and condolences to the men and gets them to agree that the man who shot the brother is not there with them, and so she convinces them to let her, and Wolf walk away, no harm, no foul. It’s here where Wolf recognizes that Sandra wasn’t a college professor back in New Orleans.

And later over a conversation at a party hosted by Arthur, Wolf learns that his suspicions are correct, that Sandra was a cop back in New Orleans. And in one of the movie’s best scenes, Wolf asks Sandra why she left the force, and he guesses that she shot someone in the line of duty, to which she replies, that’s the worst thing you can think of? When she goes on to tell him that the reason she left was because of what happened after Hurricane Katrina, how the authorities and the system failed her people, and her mother specifically, it’s a powerhouse moment, where the audience feels as dumbfounded and as foolish as Wolf, who offers a weak “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” which causes Sandra to walk away.

The tension rises when Sandra begins to follow Nathan and Samuel to learn more about them, and they view this as an escalation, and the acts of violence against her grow more serious. Meanwhile, Sandra grows more frustrated at her job when Arthur fails to include a person of color for an open professorship. Things build to an explosive climax, and as I said, this one gets better as it goes along.

There’s a lot to like about GOD’S COUNTRY. Director Julian Higgins continually inserts brief snippets of close-ups of items inside Sandra’s home, soaking in pouring rain, giving the audience a sense of foreboding that something awful is yet to come. The entire film is beautifully shot in western Montana, and this natural scenery is at odds with the humans who inhabit it. The film’s title GOD’S COUNTRY has multiple meanings here. The literal, the setting, but it also refers to the recurrent theme of useless faith. Sandra’s mother put her faith in God yet was left to fend for herself in the hurricane in New Orleans. It also speaks to what God’s country ultimately is in the United States, a flawed unfair system that hides behind the notion of God while it does whatever the heck it wants.

Thandiwe Newton, who stars in the TV series WESTWORLD (2016-2022), plays Sandra as a sad, cautious, and ultimately fed-up woman who is sick and tired of being bullied by the folks around her. She comes off to the casual viewer as being somewhat of a pain in the backside, and early on in the movie the audience tends to agree more with her levelheaded boss Arthur, and the two hunters don’t at first seem all that unreasonable. But Sandra asked them not to park in her driveway, and they refused. That in and of itself needed to change, and when it doesn’t, the audience’s view on Sandra changes. It doesn’t matter that she might seem annoying, those guys should one, be off her property, and two, should leave her alone, and when they don’t, that’s when the problems get worse.

Jeremy Bobb as acting-sheriff Wolf is convincing as the laid-back country police officer who became a cop because his high school coach was also a cop, and he figured it was a worthwhile profession.

Kai Lennox is excellent as dean Arthur, the man who seems fair minded at first, but the more we learn about him, the more we realize he’s not as progressive as he says he is. The scene where Sandra has had enough and tells him to f*ck off, is one where the audience feels the same exact way.

Jefferson White is sufficiently slimy as the unhinged hunter Samuel, but Joris Jansky is even better as his buddy Nathan. In another of the film’s many powerful sequences, the scene where Sandra follows Nathan into a church is a perfect microcosm for the story this movie tells. When Nathan sees Sandra, he tells her she has to leave, but when she sees his mother playing the organ, she tells him that her mother also used to play the organ at church, and she also tells him that her mother has just recently died. The two converse quietly in the back of the church, on their mothers, and on faith, and they seem to gain an understanding of each other and bond, but moments later, he tells her in a harsh and threatening manner, that she has to leave the church now!

That’s what happens in God’s country.

The screenplay by director Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna is a real strength. It makes its points without hitting you over the head with them. It uses subtlety to great effect. When Arthur’s young secretary confides in Sandra and tells her that Arthur sexually assaulted her, when she gives the details, it at first sounds so harmless— in other words, it’s not a blatant rape or grope, but it is a massage, and the film gets you to realize, of course this isn’t harmless!

The film’s ending, in which Sandra realizes there is only one way to finally stop these men, which comes after they have inflicted great harm to her, hearkens back to the classic westerns of old. In a way, this seems disappointing, that this is the best we have as an answer. But that is what the film is ultimately saying, that as much as we want change, nothing is changing.

It’s a somber message, but it all works.

GOD’S COUNTRY is well-made drama that speaks volumes as to what life is really like in this nation some people call God’s country.

I give it three stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

EMILY THE CRIMINAL (2022) – Aubrey Plaza Shines in Riveting New Thriller

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When the criminals treat you better than the employers, you know there’s something wrong.

I mean, if you’re going to work your fingers to the bone and get paid bare minimum, with no rights as an employee, why not work for the criminals who are paying you lots of money and are being more up front and honest with you than people in the workplace?

That’s the premise behind EMILY THE CRIMINAL (2022), a new thriller starring Aubrey Plaza about a young woman who is struggling to make ends meet who turns to crime when she is finally fed up with it all.

Emily (Aubrey Plaza) works long hours for a food delivery service and spends her days delivering and serving food to various clients. She is saddled with student debt that she cannot pay off… we witness one phone conversation where she learns that her recent payment only covered the accrued interest and not the principal of the loan…. and her efforts to find a better paying job continually fall short. She has a criminal record, for one incident of aggravated assault, and this hinders her job search. In one interview, the interviewer tells her he hasn’t read the record yet and asks her to explain it, and when she gives an alternate account, he reveals he has read it, which she sees, and rightly so, as an act of deception.

When she interviews for an upscale design position, she learns it’s actually an unpaid internship. And when her current boss changes her hours without warning, she complains, but he tells her there’s no union, no place to file grievances, so either work or leave.

All of this is why when a co-worker gives her a phone number and tells her to call it because it’s a gig that will pay her $200, she does it. After calling the number, she meets Youcef (Theo Rossi) who explains to her and the others who have also showed up that day that they will all make $200 cash, but that they will be doing something illegal. It turns out it’s a “dummy shopper” scheme where they use stolen credit card numbers to buy goods, in this case a flat screen TV, which they then turn over to Youcef who will then turn around and sell the TVs to make more money. Emily agrees, it goes well, and Youcef tells her there is another job if she’s interested, but the stakes are higher, but it will also pay $2,000.

After some soul searching, Emily decides to do the job, and even though it is more dangerous, she gets the money, and soon after decides to go all in with Youcef and continue this life of crime.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL is a well-made, smart and ultimately enjoyable thriller that I liked a lot. Its story works, like most good stories do, because it is based on truth. Employers often do treat workers terribly, prospective employers are sometimes less than honest in interviews, and there are lots of places that believe unpaid internships are real jobs. If you have spent time struggling to find work, especially work that pays well, you know this is the case. I certainly do.

Emily is an artist who loves to paint, but she can’t even think about doing what she loves because her life is a grind where she’s working only to pay bills and her student loans, and in spite of long hours, she’s failing at both. And so, it makes perfect sense for Emily when she discovers the illegal dummy shopper scheme, that she’s not going to say no. She’s desperate. And when she takes things to the next level, the audience understands her decision, because they understand her motives. She just wants to live her life. And capitalism just isn’t giving her a fair shake at the opportunities.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL features a terrific performance by Aubrey Plaza in the lead role. Plaza has been around for a while, and I have not seen a lot of her work, but she’s riveting here. She plays Emily as tough as nails, someone who is sick and tired of being pushed around, and when she decides to push back, it’s something to watch. Plaza of course played April on the TV show PARKS AND RECREATION (2009-2015) and she also starred in the TV show LEGION (2017-2019). She also starred in the remake CHILD’S PLAY (2019), which I liked, and she was in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) as well.

Theo Rossi, who has also been in a ton of stuff, plays Youcef, who in spite of seeming cold and detached at first, shows more honesty in his dealings with Emily than most of the traditional employers she has dealt with. He also has a soft side, and as the story goes along, he and Emily grow closer. Rossi nails the role, which was much more satisfying than his recent comedic turn in ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021). Rossi played the villain, Shades, in the Netflix Marvel TV show LUKE CAGE (2016-2018), and he was memorable as Juice on the TV show SONS OF ANARCHY (2008-2014).

Jonathan Avigdori makes for a nice villain, playing Youcef’s cousin Khalil, who is much more heavy-handed than Youcef, and who also doesn’t like Emily all that much.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL was written and directed by John Patton Ford, and it’s his first feature film credit. I loved the script, as it both tells a riveting story based on truth, and also creates a captivating character in Emily. You’ll root for Emily the same way you rooted for Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in BREAKING BAD (2008-2013).

There are some intense scenes here, like Emily’s attempt to steal an expensive car, and the sequence where a couple breaks into her apartment to turn the tables on her and rob her.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL is a satisfying small market movie that is more enjoyable and refreshing than many of the bigger budget movies in release today.

Definitely check this one out.

It would be a crime to miss it.

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WATCHER (2022) – Thriller Speaks to Women’s Fears and Frustrations at Being Stalked

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The best part about WATCHER (2022) is that it speaks to the vulnerabilities and frustrations women face when speaking out about being stalked, as here even the main character’s husband struggles to believe her fears are real.

The worst part is its story is told at such a dreadfully slow pace that it is difficult to get through, and it withholds any real shock until the final few minutes of the movie.

WATCHER, which premiered in theaters in June and is now available to rent or buy on Prime Video, tells the story of Julia (Maika Monroe), an American woman who relocates with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) to Romania, as his job gives him the opportunity to return to his native country. Not knowing the language, Julia finds herself isolated and alone while Francis works long hours at the office, and she soon notices in the window of an apartment across from theirs the figure of a man who seems to be watching her. While she’s out and about in the city, she notices a man (Burn Gorman) following her, and she believes it’s the same man in the window.

Further complicating matters is the fact that there is a serial killer at large who decapitates his female victims. Julia tells Francis about the man, and they call the police, and the officer investigates and basically tells the man to stop watching Julia through the window. But Julia continues to see him, and she decides to be proactive and starts following him to learn more about his identity. Eventually he calls the police on her, and when the police show up at their door, Francis begins to believe that his wife is getting carried away with things that aren’t real. But Julia persists in believing that the man is following her, and her frustrations grow when her husband pretty much stops believing her.

The audience most likely stops believing her as well, as the film offers very little evidence to support that her fears are real. But just before the end credits roll, the film takes a shocking turn, and the final few minutes of this one, by far the very best part of this movie, go for the throat and really deliver a horrifying crushing conclusion.

That being said, while I really liked the ending, WATCHER is the type of movie with its long-drawn-out scenes of Julia alone roaming around Bucharest looking over her shoulder that I don’t generally enjoy, as for the bulk of the story not a lot happens. We mostly watch Julia exist alone as her fears ramp up that she’s being stalked by a serial killer. This doesn’t translate to easy viewing, even for a movie that’s only 91 minutes long. So, I have to admit that for a lot of this movie I was bored.

But director Chloe Okuno succeeds on two fronts. One, we really feel the same sense of isolation which Julia feels living in a foreign country not knowing the language and having a husband who works all the time. Most of the movie features scenes of Julia alone and struggling to adapt. And two, as I mentioned earlier, Okuno captures that sense of frustration for women who struggle to be believed when they report their fears of being stalked. At one point Francis makes a joke to his co-workers at Julia’s expense, in Romanian, but Julia gets the gist of it and storms away. And as the movie shows, the price for not being believed is often deadly.

Maika Monroe, with her fashionable haircut and clothes, looks more mature than the younger lead character she played a few years back in the superior horror movie IT FOLLOWS (2014), and she gives a performance that is equally as effective. She plays Julia as a character who is not overwhelmed by her isolation and who takes proactive steps to fit in, but the longer the stranger watches and follows her without anyone intervening to stop him, the more unraveled she eventually becomes. Even so, she remains steadfast and strong to the last. It’s a really good performance.

I also enjoyed Karl Glusman as Julia’s husband Francis. He’s just the right balance of concerned loving husband with the “I have to work, and I don’t know what else to do to help you” attitude to make him seem very real. He never deviates into a complete jerk which would have made him cliche.

And Burn Gorman is sufficiently creepy as the silent man who watches Julia, pretty much saying nothing until late in the movie, and even then, even as he is proclaiming his innocence, he still exudes weirdness.

Director Chloe Okuno wrote the screenplay based on a prior screenplay by Zack Ford, and it features realistic dialogue and characterizations, as well as a story that ultimately works, even though it takes its time getting to anything worthy of this movie being called a thriller. It’s a slow burn ride for sure.

However, the ending is really, really good! Shocking is the best word for it.

But because of its snail-like pacing, taken as a whole, WATCHER is a mixed bag. Intellectually, I liked its story and what it had to say about women needing to be believed and taken seriously from the get-go, but emotionally the film is lacking until its powerful final few minutes.

And the voyeurism theme is downplayed here. Even though the film is entitled WATCHER and does feature someone watching Julia inside her apartment, this plot point is minimal, and the story is more about the fear Julia feels from being followed on the streets of Bucharest. The film THE VOYEURS (2021) starring Sydney Sweeney did a better job overall dealing with the theme of voyeurism, although its plot eventually goes down a ridiculous path leading to a rather dumb disappointing ending, whereas WATCHER remains low-key throughout and then goes for the jugular in the final few minutes of the movie. The ending to WATCHER is its best part.

I imagine women will appreciate WATCHER more than men, as they can more easily relate to the fears Julia experiences throughout the story. However, regardless of gender, if you can stick with it and get through the slow burn pace, you’ll come face to face with quite the lurid ending.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022) – Big Screen Adaptation of Popular Novel Superficial but Satisfying

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022), the big screen adaptation of the immensely popular novel of the same name by Delia Owens, probably will not satisfy fans of the novel since its screenplay by Lucy Alibar is superficial at best, but it still manages to tell a compelling narrative in spite of a pace better suited for a sultry summer North Carolina afternoon.

It also features a terrific performance by Daisy Edgar-Jones in the lead role.

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING opens in 1969 North Carolina where a young woman Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is accused of murdering the man she was seeing, the former high school star quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). Kya is known in town as the Marsh Girl, because she has lived her whole life alone in a house on the marshes. The townsfolk think she’s weird, and rumors about her have run rampant. The bottom line, however, is that few in town have ever given her the time of day.

When the gentle kindly attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn) steps up to defend Kya, she tells him her story, which we learn in flashbacks, and the movie plays out in this way, jumping back and forth between Kya’s past and her present trial for murder. We learn that Kya grew up in the swamps with her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt) after her mother and older sisters and brother fled the home. Kya remained, and when eventually her father leaves as well, she takes to surviving on her own.

Her only friends in town are the black owners of the local store, Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer, Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), and a boy her own age named Tate. As the years go by and Kya and Tate (Taylor John Smith) grow up, they fall in love and become best friends until Tate has to leave for college, but he promises he will come back to see Kya, but he never does, tearing a new hole in Kya’s heart. She then meets Chase, whose attempts to date her she rebuffs, but he’s persistent, and eventually she gives in and starts to see him, not knowing that he is being less than honest with her about his intentions.

And that’s the story told in WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, with the climax being will Kya be found innocent or guilty, and what will then happen to the mysterious young woman known as the Marsh Girl?

I didn’t really have high expectations for WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, so maybe that’s why I kinda enjoyed it.

The best part by far is the lead performance by Daisy Edgar Jones. She captures the innocence and wildness of Kya while giving her both the toughness and intellectual curiosity needed to nail the role. She’s in nearly the entire movie, and she’s good enough to carry this film on her shoulders.

Jones receives fine support from veteran actor David Strathairn as sympathetic and very astute attorney Tom Milton. He makes Milton a very likeable character, and an attorney who would have been right at home in an old episode of LAW AND ORDER. Strathairn has been in a ton of movies over the years, going way, way back to films like THE RIVER WILD (1994), and we saw him last year in NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021). He also has been stuck playing a boring military character, Admiral William Stenz in the meh Godzilla reboots, GODZILLA (2014) and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019).

I also really enjoyed Sterling Macer, Jr. and Michael Hyatt as the shop owners who in their own way become surrogate parents for Kya, always looking after her and caring for her. They show their frustration with their own situation, being black in rural North Carolina in the 1960s, knowing that they were limited in how they could help Kya, and understanding that it would have been best for them not to be involved with her at all.

Both Taylor John Smith as Tate and Harris Dickinson as Chase are okay. They’re not terribly exciting or interesting and are about as intriguing as a slice of white bread, but maybe that’s the point. Taylor John Smith reminded me a little bit of a young Paul Rudd.

The screenplay by Lucy Alibar as I said is a bit superficial and really plays out like someone trying to summarize a longer and deeper novel. Lots of points are made, none of them all that deeply, but that being said, Alibar does succeed in fleshing out Kya’s character at least, and combined with the wonderful acting of Daisy Edgar-Jones creates a memorable character. The dialogue is also decent. The trial scenes aren’t that exciting, however, and seem like they belong in an old TV movie.

Director Olivia Newman captures the North Carolina scenery and gives this film a lazy, hot humid summer feel. Unfortunately, that also goes for the pacing as well, which is slow and lethargic. The film is two hours and five minutes, and at times feels longer. It really isn’t much of a thriller, and the emphasis here is instead on romance. That being said, while the weather may be steamy, the romances are not. This is definitely a PG-13 love story, not an R rated one, and the film suffers for it, because it comes off like an adult tale tailored for younger audiences.

Newman does create some memorable scenes, however. Some of the best sequences involve Kya’s interactions with Jumpin’ and Mabel, with one of the best late in the film when a bruised and battered Kya visits an emotional Jumpin’ who tells her how much he and Mabel truly care for her.

Taken as a whole, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is a satisfying and generally moving drama about a young woman who lived an extraordinary life alone in the swamps of North Carolina, and who had to fend for herself to survive both the hardships of nature and the ways of men. Accused of murder, her life becomes front and center for all in town to see, and the story becomes less about her innocence or guilt, and more about who she is and why she has to do what she does.

In the hazy lazy days of summer, watching WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING in an air-conditioned theater might be just the ticket to pass a sweltering afternoon.

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THE OUTFIT (2022) – Mark Rylance Performance Leads Compelling 1950s Era Mob Thriller

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Mark Rylance delivers another superb performance in THE OUTFIT (2022), a compelling thriller which takes place in 1950s Chicago and is about a tailor, played by Rylance, who finds himself in the middle of a mob war fighting for his survival when efforts to find a mob rat play out in his shop during one eventful evening.

Rylance plays Leonard, a World War I veteran who says he moved to Chicago from London when the market for fine clothing dwindled after blue jeans took over the men’s clothing scene. Leonard is quick to point out that he’s not a tailor but a cutter, someone who designs and makes quality suits. The film opens with a voice over of Leonard explaining the many intricate steps of creating such a suit. Leonard owns a small shop with just one employee, his young secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch), who seems to have eyes for the young mobster Richie (Dylan O’Brien) who frequents the shop.

At times, this movie called to mind PHANTOM THREAD (2017), another 1950s period piece in which Daniel Day Lewis played a dressmaker, but that film became a love story, whereas THE OUTFIT becomes a mob crime thriller.

Richie is the son of mob boss Roy (Simon Russell Beale), who uses Leonard’s shop as a front to deposit and retrieve messages from other mobsters. Leonard wants no trouble and allows them use of his shop without argument, as he quietly goes about his cutting business. But one night, Richie and Roy’s right-hand man, Francis (Johnny Flynn) return to the store after being ambushed by a rival family, and Richie has been shot. Francis forces Leonard to sew up the wound, and afterwards, Leonard learns that Richie and Francis have in their possession a cassette tape which when played will reveal the identity of the rat in their outfit who has been supplying information to the FBI. Richie and Francis were on their way to obtaining a recorder to play the tape when they were attacked, and now both the FBI and the rival mobsters want that tape.

Tensions rise between Richie and Francis, as they both suspect the other of being the rat, and things grow more complicated when Roy arrives and then Mable, and through it all, Leonard finds himself having to outwit the mobsters in order to save his life and Mable’s.

THE OUTFIT is a handsome, polished production by first-time director Graham Moore, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Moore also wrote the screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME (2014), the excellent World War II drama which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as genius Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazi messaging code.

Here, Moore gives THE OUTFIT a claustrophobic feel as the entire film takes place within the small confines of Leonard’s shop. The costumes and sets look authentic to the period, and the somber cinematography supports the quiet, unobtrusive persona of the solitary cutter.

The screenplay by Moore and Johnathan McClain is excellent. The dialogue is first-rate and the characters, especially Leonard, Richie, and Francis, are well-developed. Things do get more contrived as the story goes along as Leonard continues to pull one rabbit out of his hat after another, and the final premise of the movie, the notion that things were more planned than they seemed, is not terribly convincing.

Mark Rylance, as always, is a joy to watch. If you like fine acting, you want to watch Rylance. He’s a master at his craft and has been memorable in such movies as BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), DUNKIRK (2017), and more recently DON’T LOOK UP (2021). Here, Rylance plays Leonard as a man who definitely seems to be hiding from some past life, harboring a tragic secret, and we know this long before the plot tells us, because Rylance plays him this way. With his quiet, unassuming and methodical delivery, Rylance makes Leonard someone who is adept at listening and observing details, two skills which serve him well when dealing with the mob.

Also making an impression and giving the second-best performance in the movie is Johnny Flynn as Francis. Flynn stood out as Ian Fleming in the recent World War II drama OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2021), as well as in THE DIG (2021) and in EMMA (2020). Francis is a much different role than the ones Flynn played in these other movies. Francis is a hardened killer, a man who has risen in the mob ahead of the obvious heir apparent, the mobster’s son, which causes a lot of tension between Francis and Richie. Flynn gives an edge to the character which make other characters in the movie as well as the audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s around.

Simon Russell Beale is spot-on once again as head mobster Roy. Beale also starred in OPERATION MINCEMEAT alongside Johnny Flynn, as Beale played Winston Churchill in that movie. Beale was most memorable, however, in THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017).

Dylan O’Brien is also very good as Richie.

And Zoey Deutch is fine as Mable, Leonard’s secretary, and the two characters share a sort of father/daughter relationship. But the role is limited and doesn’t allow Deutch to show off her talents as well as she has in some other movies, films like BUFFALOED (2019) and ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019).

THE OUTFIT was released theatrically in March and is now available to rent on Prime Video.

The term “outfit” has a double meaning here, as it refers to what Leonard creates as well as being the term used to describe the league of mobsters spread out all around the country. And more specifically, at one point in the movie, Richie’s outfit, his coat, becomes a key item in the plot.

I really enjoyed THE OUTFIT. I could watch Mark Rylance all day, and his performance is the driving force behind this movie, which also tells an entertaining story filled with some twists and turns, and it’s fun to watch Rylance’s character Leonard outsmart the mobsters. It’s also shot very well by first-time director Graham Moore who invites you into this small shop in Chicago in 1956, and under his expert direction, you really feel as if you are truly there.

So much so that when Leonard and Mable are fighting for their lives, you feel as if you are right there with them, which only adds to the suspense and intensity of this fine period piece thriller.

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EMERGENCY (2022) – Exceptional Eloquent Drama About Racism Intense Yet Funny

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My favorite movies often are the ones in which the script is spot on and honest and taps into truth, so that regardless of where its story goes, it’s believable and clicks, because the audience knows where its coming from and understands what’s going on.

EMERGENCY (2022) is such a movie, with an exceptional script by K.D. Davila that speaks to race relations in the here and now, specifically the treatment of black men by the police, and it does so in a way that not only isn’t overbearing and heavy-handed, but instead is wild and insane and even funny.

EMERGENCY, now available on Prime Video, tells the story of two black college students, Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler), who on the eve of spring break, are on their way to an epic night of partying, but first they return to their campus apartment and there discover the door open and an unconscious body of a white girl lying on their living room floor. Their video game playing dorky roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) is in his room playing on his computer and doesn’t even realize there’s a girl sprawled out on their floor.

Kunle wants to call 911, but the streetwise Sean stops him from doing so, explaining that if they call the police, no one is going to believe them that this girl just showed up on their doorstep. They will suspect Kunle and Sean of foul play, and worse, things could get out of hand quickly and they could be shot. This plot point isn’t hard to believe because… it’s true.

Kunle, who is responsible to a fault, eventually convinces his two friends that they should drive this girl to the hospital, as she definitely seems intoxicated or perhaps worse, drugged, and needs medical attention. Sean and Carlos agree, and they covertly carry the girl out to Sean’s car where they hope to drive her across town and leave her at the emergency room.

And thus begins an odyssey of a night that gets crazier and more intense by the second, as what could go wrong does go wrong, and then some.

While director Carey Williams obviously seems to have been influenced by the work of Spike Lee and Jordan Peele, two other films come to mind when describing how EMERGENCY plays out. In terms of sheer intensity and frenetic stress, I was reminded of brothers Benny and Josh Safdie’s GOOD TIME (2017), the film which told the story of the harrowing efforts of a bank robber played by Robert Pattinson trying to spring his mentally challenged brother from a hospital before he was transferred to prison. EMERGENCY also calls to mind the original THE HANGOVER (2009), the insane comedy starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, where three men awake after a bachelor’s night out to find the groom missing and their lives in complete disarray, and their attempts to locate the missing groom only make things worse. THE HANGOVER of course was played completely for laughs, whereas EMERGENCY isn’t, but the two films share the zany unpredictability of the best of intentions gone awry.

EMERGENCY captures that same HANGOVER- type journey blowing-up-in-your face vibe as things continue to unravel for these three young men as they try to do the right thing, even as they remain afraid of the simplest solution, calling 911, fearing it could cost them their lives.

Things that go wrong include the girl becoming more intoxicated when Carlos offers her a sports drink which he doesn’t realize is an alcoholic concoction created by Sean; the tail light on their car isn’t working, something that could get them pulled over by the police, and so they try getting another car; they learn that the girl, Emma, is underage, and Emma’s sister Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) is hot on their trail with her friends, as she is tracking Emma with her cell phone.

I really enjoyed EMERGENCY. As I said, the script by K.D. Davila is as real as it gets, and it makes its points while also telling a compelling and entertaining story. Carey Williams’ direction is equally as good. The in-depth characterizations do not come at the expense of plot, as the film moves quickly through one ordeal after another. This is a high energy tale that does not sacrifice storytelling for poignancy.

Donald Elise Watkins is excellent as Kunle, the student with a bright future, described as the Barack Obama of the science world by his buddy Sean. Watkins plays Kunle as a young man who disagrees with his friend’s Sean’s take on the world and wants to call 911 and do the right thing, but ultimately, he doesn’t.

He also gets one of the best moments in the movie, the moment where his view of the world changes. When they are finally stopped by the police outside the hospital and are ordered at gunpoint to get out of the vehicle, Kunle is shoved to the ground after having a gun pointed directly in his face, even after he says that he is only trying to save the girl. The most interesting aspect of this scene is that the police do not overreact, but there is still a marked difference between the way Kunle is treated and the way the other students who are all white, are treated. It’s almost imperceptible, since this isn’t an overdramatic “shoot first ask questions later” scene, but it’s there. The experience not only frightens Kunle but traumatizes him, as shown by the last shot of the film, when he hears a police siren in the distance, and his expression goes cold.

RJ Cyler is also excellent as Sean, the street wise friend who knows a bit more of the real world than Kunle does. Sebastian Chacon as Carlos largely serves as the comic relief, and he’s very good at it. And although she spends most of the movie unconscious, Maddie Nichols makes her mark as Emma, and when she’s not vomiting and gets to speak some dialogue, has some key moments. Likewise, Sabrina Carpenter is explosive as Emma’s older sister Maddie, who is guilt ridden over bringing her sister to a college campus and then losing her. She has her own issues with racism which come out over the course of the movie, even as she pushes back and claims she’s not racist.

K. D. Davila’s screenplay provides first-rate dialogue throughout.

EMERGENCY is a superior movie, a film that tells a story of our time that as a wild and oftentimes funny vehicle is about as far removed from a preachy sermon as one can get. Yet, it makes its social and racial points as eloquently as any well-written speech or diatribe.

It’s one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

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NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021) – Visually Intriguing Remake Is Mostly for Guillermo del Toro Fans

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Well, I continue not to be a fan of director Guillermo del Toro.

And I say this with a great deal of respect, because visually, del Toro’s films are genuinely impressive. Trouble is, I just don’t like many of them, mostly because where he excels with the visual aspects of film, he struggles with the storytelling.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021), del Toro’s latest, released in cinemas back in December and now available on HBO Max, falls into this same category. Visually, the movie is a real treat. The story which takes place in the late 1930s and early 1940s, with the first half set inside a travelling carnival, is beautifully shot, and the imagery is mesmerizing. The mix of vibrant and shadowy colors, the use of snow, blood, and carnival lights all add up to inspired cinematography. Del Toro’s imagery here is reminiscent of the works of Tim Burton.

But the story is far less inspired and ultimately fall short.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is a remake of the classic NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) which starred Tyrone Power. It tells the story of Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), who when the film opens is seen burning a corpse and an entire house with it, and he then leaves in silence and eventually finds work at a carnival. He befriends Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette) and Pete (David Strathairn) who once had a very successful mentalist act, during Pete’s younger days. Stanton learns the tricks of the trade and finds that he has a real talent for the mentalist act. He runs off with the young and lovely Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) to start a life of their own, where they take their mentalist act on the road and begin to do exceedingly well.

Until they cross paths with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) who puts them in touch with some powerful clients who are looking for individual help as they try to contact their dead loved ones. This is a line Stanton has been taught not to cross, that once someone wants deep personal help, it’s best to let them know it’s all an act, so they don’t get hurt, but the money these people will pay him is too much for him to ignore, and so he embarks on the dangerous path of conning some very powerful people into believing that he is indeed communicating with their deceased relatives.

In addition to its fabulous visuals, NIGHTMARE ALLEY is also blessed with an exceptional cast. Bradley Cooper is excellent as he always is, and he’s in nearly every frame of this movie. He takes Stanton Carlisle from mysterious stranger to eager carnival hand, to a successful mentalist at the top of his game to finally when he takes things too far, to a tragic figure, and he is convincing in all of these stages. While not as impressive as his work in A STAR IS BORN (2018) or AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) it’s still pretty good stuff and a solid reminder of how far Cooper has come from his days in THE HANGOVER movies, a comedy trilogy in which he was also excellent.

Rooney Mara is sincere as Molly Cahill, and is the one constant positive force in Stanton’s life, while Cate Blanchett makes Dr. Lilith Ritter a shady film noir femme fatale. Blanchett is fine here, but I enjoyed her more as the powerful TV host in DON’T LOOK UP (2021).

The stellar cast also includes Willem Dafoe as carnival head Clem Hoatley, Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, and Holt McCallany.

The screenplay by del Toro and Kim Morgan, based on the novel by Lindsay Gresham, works up to a point. I thoroughly enjoyed the set-up, the stranger with the mysterious background who joins the carnival to finally fit in somewhere, but as the plot progresses, and Stanton grows more confident and takes his act on the road to hit it big, the intrigue dies down, mostly because none of the characters are fleshed out enough to make their contributions to the story worthwhile. And Stanton becomes a one trick pony after a while. Plus, the film is very, very long, clocking in at two hours and thirty minutes, and it feels like it. Shave off thirty minutes, and the movie probably works better.

As I said, visually the film is outstanding, and so del Toro fares better as a director here. There are some brilliantly conceived almost mesmerizing scenes, featuring merry go rounds, ferris wheels, and buildings with cold, labrynth-like hallways. There’s also plenty of blood and violence. And with its talented cast it has the makings of a winner, but sometimes these elements are not enough, and that’s the case here with NIGHTMARE ALLEY. The story falls flat long before the end credits roll.

I feel the same way even about some of del Toro’s celebrated hits, films like the Oscar-winning THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017), CRIMSON PEAK (2015), and even PAN’S LABRYNTH (2006). All of these films have winning visual styles, and all labored to tell a decent story. My favorite of del Toro’s films remains his HELLBOY movies.

If you are a fan of Guillermo del Toro, you will no doubt enjoy NIGHTMARE ALLEY much more than I did. But the rest of us, while we may be wowed by its vibrant onscreen artistry, will find sitting through two hours and thirty minutes of labored storytelling an arduous task at best.

At the end of the day, NIGHTMARE ALLEY isn’t much of a nightmare. It’s not even much of a bad dream. It’s just an alley, a very long alley with lots of offshoots that ultimately lead to nowhere.

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PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020) – One of the Best Movies From 2020

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(Carey Mulligan in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020))

It took me a while, but I finally caught up with PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), one of the more heralded films from 2020, now currently streaming on HBO Max.

I wish I had caught this one sooner.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN opens in a bar with a group of guys talking about a female co-worker in a rather disparaging way. They spy an attractive young woman who is drunk and about to pass out sitting alone. The one “nice guy” in the group approaches her, asks if she is okay, and then offers to bring her home. Instead, they take a detour to his apartment, where he offers her another drink and then begins to make out with her even though she is too drunk to respond. As he begins to undress her, she repeatedly and weakly asks, “what are you doing?” The guy ignores her question, until she says loudly this time, “What are you doing?” and he looks at her, and she’s staring at him, and she’s stone cold sober.

From this moment on, the film never looks back.

The young woman is Cassie (Carey Mulligan), and she’s just turned 30 and is living at home with her parents working in a coffee shop, after quitting medical school years earlier, even though she really wanted to become a doctor. And she quit medical school to take care of her best friend, Nina, a fellow medical school student, who was raped by a male student while his friends watched. And he got away with it because the school decided it was a “he said, she said” thing and that was that. The incident literally killed Nina as she never recovered and later committed suicide.

Cassie ventures through night clubs pretending to be drunk, and each night she’s picked up by some “nice guy” who offers to take her home but instead tries to have sex with her, and each time she turns the tables on him and shows him that in reality he’s not such a nice guy.

But then another old friend from med school Ryan (Bo Burnham) walks into the coffee shop and recognizes Cassie. He eventually asks her out, and after some hesitation, she says yes, and things go well, until he mentions that one of their old friends Al Monroe is about to get married. This news jolts Cassie because Al Monroe is the guy who raped Nina. And suddenly, Cassie’s need for vengeance rises to a whole other level.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and had I seen it when it first came out back in December 2020, it would have easily been one of my favorite movies of the year.

Emerald Fennell’s screenplay won the Oscar last year for Best Original Screenplay and rightly so. The story nails the way a lot of men treat and talk about women, but better yet, what it feels like for women to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. It’s also empowering to watch Cassie turn the tables on these cowardly predators. That being said, I found this one to be a nail biter throughout, because as I watched Cassie go to these bars, I feared that one time she wouldn’t be able to turn the tables on the “nice” guy.

And later while some of the vengeance scenes are played to elicit nervous laughter, for me the overwhelming emotion throughout this story was sadness, for what happened to Nina, and for what Cassie was doing, in effect not living her life because she was hyper-focused on avenging and finding meaning in her friend’s death.

The script is tight throughout, is filled with hard hitting and memorable dialogue, and never misses a beat.

Likewise, Carey Mulligan knocks it out of the park as Cassie. I’ve been a fan of Mulligan’s for a while, and she has delivered a string of memorable performances in such films as DRIVE (2011), THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), MUDBOUND (2017) and most recently in THE DIG (2021), but I’ve never seen her as singularly focused and powerful as she is here as Cassie. It’s hands down the best performance I’ve seen Mulligan deliver yet. If this were a lesser movie, Cassie would be tearing into these men with knives and other sharp weapons. In PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, she tears into them with words, and it is quite the sight to see her shred these people with the power of her words as she attacks them with truths that cut through them as assuredly as if she were wielding a dagger.

Mulligan makes Cassie an admirable avenger throughout, but one I couldn’t stop worrying about knowing the dangerous waters in which she was swimming.

Bo Burnham is effective as new boyfriend Ryan, who like every other male in the movie seems like a nice guy, but you keep waiting for his true self to be revealed, and Burnham is really good at keeping those suspicions in line.

Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are excellent as Cassie’s worried and awkward parents. Brown gets one of the best scenes in the movie when he tells Cassie just how much he and her mom have missed her.

The film has a great supporting cast, which includes Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Adam Brody, Christopher Minztz-Plasse, Max Greenfield, and Christopher Lowell, who all contribute in small roles throughout the movie.

As I said, Emerald Fennell won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and she also directed PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. Her direction is every bit as good as her screenplay. She keeps things stylish, lively, and disturbing throughout. And sad. I just couldn’t shake an overwhelming feeling of sadness throughout this movie, which is less about one woman’s avenging spirit and more about the cruel world in which women are forced to navigate.

The film’s conclusion, where Cassie seeks final revenge on Al Monroe the night before his wedding, is the most disturbing sequence of all in a film that is full of uncomfortable moments and reveals. It packs quite a jolt, but it works. The best part about the ending, and the film in general, is had this been a male dominated revenge tale, the final scene would have been a bloodbath. Here, that’s not the case. What ultimately happens is consistent with the main theme of this movie, with the males getting away with their crimes thanks to a society which consistently looks the other way, but in the final reel, the film has one last chess move that for the sake of this story, offers some semblance of satisfaction, although it’s hardly a happy ending. But it works.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN could easily be dismissed as just another “empowered women” movie where the women are always right and the men are always wrong, but that would be missing the point. The men’s views and attitudes towards women in this movie are always wrong, and these attitudes and views are never right. These are views and attitudes that are downright shameful and ugly. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN simply exposes these views and attitudes as it tells the story of one woman who wanted to make sure that those responsible for ruining the life of her best friend Nina never forget her name.

And after the events in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, they won’t.

Neither will you.

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CENTIGRADE (2020) – Drama About Couple Trapped in Snowbound Car Exceedingly Quiet

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centigrade

CENTIGRADE (2020) is a curious drama based on a true story of an author and her husband who were trapped in their car underneath ice and snow on a frozen road in Norway.

The film is also billed as a thriller, but this is only because the concept of two people trapped in their car underneath ice and snow is a life-threatening experience. The film itself is strictly a drama, with no attempt to sensationalize the events. For a story like this, it’s exceedingly quiet.

Still, I somewhat enjoyed this one, even as the script presented other problems, which get in the way of the film’s realism.

CENTIGRADE opens with author Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza) waking up in their car after pulling over onto the side of the road during a dangerous ice storm. They awake to find their car buried under a wall of snow and ice. The car won’t start, and they have no cell phone service. Naomi wants to break a window and dig their way out, but Matt wants to stay in the car, which he says is safer and will help keep them warm, and that is what they decide to do.

And thus begins their odyssey, stuck in their car, at first for hours, but then… for days… and days. With nothing to do but talk to each other and get on each other’s nerves. Oh, and by the way. Naomi is pregnant and about to have her baby.

And that’s the plot of CENTIGRADE.

The film opens strong. The conflict is present immediately at the outset. The problem with CENTIGRADE is it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It remains pretty much one note throughout, and the longer it goes on this way, the less effective the story becomes.

For example, I really expected Naomi and Matt to really have a hard time being together in close quarters in a perilous situation, and they do bicker, but it never becomes full blown arguing. I mean, they have their disagreements, but like the rest of the movie, in terms of story arc, nothing much really happens to keep the viewer interested.

The story also has other struggles. Early on when Naomi has to pee, Matt suggests she pee into a towel. It works. But as the days turn into weeks, how are these two going to the bathroom? How many towels do they have? And there are some things that towels are not going to be good for in the bathroom department. The film never addresses this.

They light candles in their car to see, which I thought was odd. The film also doesn’t address how they never run out of oxygen. Nor do they look like two people stuck in a car for weeks. They look too neat. And then there’s the birth scene. One of the easiest births you’ll ever see, and then the baby joins them in their car. What are these folks eating? I mean, they have some food, but enough for weeks? Not sure about that.

I also found it difficult to imagine they’re not wanting to escape. How long does it take before you realize no one is coming to find you? It’s time to get the hell out and take your chances! Not here. They just sit in that damn car.

All this being said, for the most part, I enjoyed CENTIGRADE. I enjoyed the performances by Genesis Rogriguez and Vincent Piazza as Naomi and Matt. They did seem like a married couple, and their conversations were definitely realistic. The problem is, sometimes in a movie you want more than realistic. You want a reason to keep watching. This film doesn’t really give its audience that. I stuck with it because I enjoyed the characters, and they seemed like real people.

But the story didn’t always seem real, as the screenplay by Daley Nixon and director Brendan Walsh didn’t really do a good job with the details.

And while director Brendan Walsh does capture the sense of icy coldness throughout, I thought the feeling of claustrophobia of being stuck in one’s car for so long in a life threatening situation which should have been there, weirdly was not. I didn’t get the sense that these folks feared every day for their lives or were about to flip out at the idea of being trapped in their car. They just sort of continue their quiet talking throughout.

If you’re looking for an intense thriller, CENTIGRADE is not that movie. Instead, it’s a quiet talky drama about a married couple who find themselves trapped in a vehicle under snow and ice. As I said at the outset, it’s a curious story, one that was intriguing enough to hold my interest for its 98 minute running time, but since I was expecting this one to get more intense as it went along, ultimately by film’s end since it didn’t, it was something of a disappointment.

The best parts really are the understated performances by the two actors here, Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza. They are what kept me watching.

If you know beforehand that CENTIGRADE is a rather quiet drama, you may like this one. Otherwise, you may find yourself giving it the cold shoulder.

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THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020) – Blake Lively Actioner As Dull As Advertised

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the rhythm section

Sometimes I need to listen to the critics.

THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020), an action thriller starring Blake Lively, opened in theaters back in January to some pretty tepid reviews, but I like Blake Lively, and I enjoyed the film’s trailers, so while I missed it on its first run, I finally decided to catch up with it this weekend.

As I said, I should have listened to those critics. THE RHYTHM SECTION was actually worse than I expected it to be.

Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is so distraught after her parents and brother are killed in a plane crash that she turns to a life of prostitution and drugs. But when a reporter approaches her with the news that the plane was blown up by a terrorist bomb, and that the news was covered up, and that he knows who was responsible, well, she cleans up her act and decides to train as an assassin to personally bring those responsible for the death of her family to justice. Of course. That’s what anyone would do. Right?

Hardly.

Anyway, Stephanie trains with former MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law) who tells her she doesn’t have what it takes—cue ROCKY music here— but she sets out to prove him wrong. And she does, and soon she’s travelling all over Europe to assassinite those nasty terrorists.

Okay, there are a lot of things wrong with this movie but the biggest one is the story.  The screenplay by Mark Burnell, based on his novel, just never becomes believable. Why Iain Boyd would ever give Stephanie the time of day is beyond me and never made any sense. Why not just train anyone to be an assassin? The story gives us no reason why Stephanie is particularly suited to become a hired killer, other than her drive to avenge the death of her family. Furthermore, the film puts zero effort into convincing us that Stephanie can become a cold-blooded murderer at the drop of a hat, and that she can morph into a super skilled fighter who would give Jason Bourne a run for his money.

Also, before this, it’s not clearly explained why the reporter seeks out Stephanie in the first place. Why does he reveal the story about the bomb to her? Does he plan to interview her? It’s never made clear what his purpose is, other than to serve as a plot device to have Stephanie learn that her family was murdered.

And since no one knows the true identity of the mastermind behind the bombing, it’s part of Stephanie’s “mission” to learn his identity, and so the film also suffers from not having a villain. There’s no one to root against. Stephanie keeps moving up the food chain with one hit after another, but the main terrorist is unknown until the end of the movie, and even that reveal is disappointing and anticlimactic.

Director Reed Morano doesn’t help matters. Right off the bat the film gets off to a muddled start. It opens in a confusing manner as we see Stephanie closing in on a kill, and then it jumps back in time to show Stephanie enjoying time with her family, but then this turns out to be a flashback within a flashback as suddenly we jump ahead to Stephanie as a prostitute. It all adds up to an opening that did not draw me in. Period.

The characters are also pretty blah. The biggest snooze, unbelievably, is the main character, Stephanie Patrick. I never warmed up to her or really liked her, nor did I ever believe later that she could do the things we saw her doing.

The action scenes are also unimpressive.  I expected this one to play out in similar fashion to ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), but the action scenes in that movie were much more stylized and better executed.  The fight scenes here often seemed slow, the choreography not that exciting.

The soundtrack also didn’t work for me, as the songs chosen to cover key scenes seemed out of place, and the film’s score by Steve Mazzaro was hardly noticeable at all. The one song that does work, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” performed by Sleigh Bells, which was featured heavily in the film’s trailers, doesn’t appear in the movie until just before the end credits. So much for that.

I usually like Blake Lively, but her performance here didn’t really work for me. I never believed that Stephanie became that assassin. Likewise, Jude Law was rather wooden as former MI6 agent and current assassin trainer Iain Boyd. And Sterling K. Brown, usually a very reliable actor, is also subdued here as a former CIA agent also involved in the mix, Mark Cerra. Brown knocked it out of the park as attorney Christopher Darden in the TV series AMERICAN CRIME STORY (2016), and he’s been similarly striking in other movies as well, but not so much here.

Also, there was simply no chemistry between Lively and Law, or between Lively and Brown. Their relationships with each other simply fell flat.

The film did take advantage of its many European locations, so much so at times it resembled a James Bond movie, which is no surprise, since it was produced by Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Incidentally, the rhythm section refers to Boyd’s advice to Stephanie to slow the rhythm of her body, to let her heartbeat be a drum, all in an effort to cool her nerves to make her a successful killer.

I think the filmmakers heeded this advice too literally. The film is slow and cold and really could have used an infusion of energy and oomph!

THE RHYTHM SECTION is an inferior action movie, with few compelling scenes, characters who never come to life, and a story that not only didn’t grab me but never came off as believable.

The only rhythm here was the tap, tap, tap, of my fingers on the arm rest of my chair as I waited for the end credits to roll.

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