“Serenity” Movie Review


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     “Serenity” is one of those films that absolutely has to be seen in order to be believed.  There is no describing it, unless completely giving away its secrets is an option, but even then words allowing for a proper portrayal of the plot and the characters in the story would be hard to come by.  Because the film will make little noise at the box office, most will have to wait until it becomes available on digital platforms to determine for themselves if the film is actually any good or not.  Writer/director Steven Knight has weaved together a film so hokey, it’s difficult to take it seriously.  A fact that undermines what lies beneath the surface where Knight changes the laws of film narrative to suit his strange third act.

     Whatever trailer house was hired to create the advertising for “Serenity” must’ve only been given scenes from the first half of the film.  What audiences will expect to see is not what’s delivered.  An all star cast featuring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, and Jason Clarke populate a secluded tropical island called Plymouth where we are meant to believe a twisted murder for hire plot is about to become a reality.  Baker Dill (McConaughey), is a local boat captain who take tourists out to sea on fishing excursions, while also continually attempting to hook a rather large tuna that thus far has remained elusive.  His first mate, Duke (Djimon Hounsou), functions as a sort of moral compass when Baker becomes impulsive towards catching this fish he has dubbed “Justice”, particularly when they have paying customers on board.

     The set up here will strike you as odd from the very first scenes.  Everything that happens seems convenient and created for purposes that may be revealed later.  Each day when Baker returns from the sea, a woman named Constance (Diane Lane), who lives in a cottage overlooking the dock, opens the shutters of her window and looks upon the returning fisherman, not saying a word, but beckoning him to join her as we learn he does each and every time.  And after their time in the sack, both exchange some of the most cheesy dialogue you will ever hear, as if the screenwriter was a child and doesn’t have any idea of what exactly he is writing about when it comes to adult situations.  This leads to similarly odd exchanges between Baker and patrons of the island’s only bar, as his life seems to be a proverbial daily repeat with nothing but that big fish in his mind.

     That is until Karen (Anne Hathaway), his ex wife, arrives on the island with an offer and a desperate plea for help.  Per her words, we are meant to believe she has arrived several days early before her husband, Frank (Jason Clarke), where he is expecting to go on a fishing excursion she has booked for him.  But Karen’s motives are, of course, geared to something else entirely.  Frank abuses her, as well as the son Baker and Karen have in common, which leads to her bringing an offer to Baker she believes he can’t refuse.  Take her unknowing abusive husband on the fishing excursion, get him drunk, and then send him overboard.  In exchange? Ten million dollars of dirty money, courtesy of Frank’s illegal business exploits.  But Baker wants nothing to do with her or the situation, leaving Karen to deal with Frank’s arrival and the expectation he will be going on a fishing trip which Karen claims she spent hours on the internet searching for.

     If the film were to go on from here, you would think this was a classic Femme Fatale story cooked up by the likes of Hitchcock or DePalma, but then Knight changes the game significantly, going somewhere you likely will not predict.  For their part, the actors really seem to be into the material with McConaughey going full bore, as he willingly and assuredly belts out his lines with every ounce of emotional grit he can muster.  And while Anne Hathaway isn’t as effective with what she is given to work with, Jason Clarke has a mischievously good time playing the bad guy, yucking it up with his ultra-arrogant persona as a man who is used getting exactly what he wants when he wants it.  Some of the back and forth between Baker and Frank is actually quite good, given the fact Frank is being set up and he’s too dumb to realize it.

     But where does all of this end up?  To make sense of Knight’s endgame is practically impossible.  And the way he gets there makes it seem as though he believes one upping the audience is imperative, even though the pay off doesn’t pack the emotional punch I think he was going for.  Nonetheless, “Serenity” could end up being one of those films where once the masses see it, there could be a good bit of water cooler talk debating the narrative choices made by Knight and whether or not they should be allowed in a film.  It’s kinda of like something staring right at you in the face, while it consistently tells itself “I’m invisible”.  That’s what it’s like to watch the film.  It’s all so obvious where it’s going, lessening the impact of the reveal once we get there.  GRADE: C