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SERENITY (2019) review

January 27, 2019

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written by: Steven Knight
produced by: Guy Heeley, Steven Knight, Greg Shapiro
directed by: Steven Knight
rated: R (for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: January 25, 2019

 

“I’m not begging you Baker Dill, I’m just telling you when life offers you an opportunity like this, you have to take it.”

 

Sorry bad movie lovers, 2019 doesn’t have its front-runner quite yet in “Serenity”, a mostly wasted opportunity to do anything interesting with a mildly intriguing neo-noir. What little faith one may put in a film starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in the year 2019 is eroded by one of the strangest plot twists in recent memory.

I’m always surprised when a film like “Serenity” is credited to one writer and director, because that is typically as close to a pure vision of its creator’s intent as possible—barring budget cuts or typical studio interference, none of which this film had to my knowledge. When the finished product is such a muddled mess of unanswered questions and wasted potential, one has to wonder if this particular writer/director is worth investing in.

 

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It’s even more surprising when it comes from someone who has proven themselves a good storyteller in the past, as writer/director Steven Knight did with 2014’s “Locke“. Any character nuance he showed as a writer on that film has been replaced with dull and shallow clichés masquerading as characters. To call any one character in this film more than one-dimensional would be giving them far too much credit, but then again, that twist more or less rewrites the rules of everything that’s come before.

That’s always such a cheat, in my opinion, when the lack of character development or sometimes total logic can be written off by a twist you couldn’t possibly have seen coming, even if you were paying attention. 2013’s “Now You See Me” did this and I would put this film’s twist on a par with that film’s head-scratching-for-all-the-wrong-reasons finale. I doubt the film would hold up to scrutiny on a second viewing because its reasoning starts to fall apart the minute you examine it.

McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a man with a sole purpose in life: to land that big tuna he’s been catching for years while living on the tropical Plymouth Island. When the fish don’t bite, Dill can whore himself out to local sexpot Constance (Diane Lane, charmingly noir-ish and better than this rotten film deserves). One day, Dill’s fortunes are changed when his ex, Karen (Hathaway), shows up out of the blue with a proposition: Take her abusive new husband Frank (Jason Clarke) out on a fishing trip, arrange it so that he happens to fall overboard in shark-infested waters, come home to find himself ten million dollars richer. There’s also that matter of the conspicuously out of place businessman (Jeremy Strong) who just keeps missing Dill every time he comes ashore.

 

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Dill is clearly running from something back home, but McConaughey keeps things vague, spouting a series of vagaries about the Iraq war and a son he seems to be able to communicate with telepathically. Nothing in this film makes much sense when you hold it up to scrutiny, but it plays fine in the flow of things, a testament to Knight’s ability to tell a story coherently if not well.

I’d say McConaughey was slumming it here, but so much of his post-Oscar work has been self-important dreck like 2016’s “Sea of Trees”, that he seems right at home in this sort of mid-level thriller. McConaughey’s choice of roles has always been questionable, but apart from wanting to dry hump Anne Hathaway, I can’t much figure why he took this role. Ditto Jason Clarke, though he is far too committed to such a despicably over-wrought monster of a character. I want to know why he took this role, and I also want to know why he took such relish in it, it’s a disgustingly thankless part.

“Serenity” certainly left me with more questions than answers, but none of those questions are related to the film’s story or plot. I’m interested in how this must have read as a screenplay versus how it plays as a film. To me, it played like a cut-rate thriller rightfully dumped in the doldrums of January, but that couldn’t have been what enticed Oscar winning talent to such a poorly executed idea. I’m left dwelling on the tropical locales—the film was shot on location in Mauritius, a remote island off the eastern coast of Madagascar.

I’m also left remembering that classic quote from Michael Caine about why he agreed to star in the objectively terrible “Jaws IV: The Revenge”. Caine proudly stated, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” Hell, I’d have signed on to shoot any movie in such a beautiful part of the world, so I can’t necessarily blame any of the talent involved. Chalk this one up to everyone involved needing a vacation.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

 

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