It’s difficult to really know what to say about Serenity, but for the record, it’s certainly one of the boldest movies I’ve seen in awhile. It pulls an insane kind of bait-and-switch halfway through, and it’s a move that will excite some and completely repel others. What exactly does that mean? What exactly is it? It’s impossible to really say anything about Serenity‘s loony twist without spoiling the entire thing and ruining the film’s entire gimmick. It’s something that really has to be seen to be believed.
What I can tell you is how this thing begins. Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill (why not?), a lonely fishing boat captain who lives on a small, tropical island called Plymouth. He has an obsession with catching a particularly large tuna that he’s nicknamed “Justice”, and that obsession has begun to drive him a little crazy. He lives by himself in a shipping container, bathes by diving naked into the ocean, and earns money by leading fishing tours on his boat, “Serenity”, or by sleeping with his neighbor, Constance (Diane Lane). He also stops by the island’s sole bar every day to drink. A lot.
One fateful day, Dill’s ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), arrives on the island unexpectedly. She informs Dill that her husband (Jason Clarke) will be arriving the next day, and that the two of them are looking to go on a fishing excursion. She also tells Dill that her husband is horribly abusive not just to her, but to her son as well, whom she had in her previous marriage to Dill. So she offers him ten million dollars to take her husband out to sea and murder him. Dill then has to struggle with the moral dilemma of saving his ex-wife and son but having to kill a man to do it, as well as having to contend with a life he thought he had left behind.
Seems pretty straight forward, right? Serenity has been marketed as a sexy, murder mystery thriller, and to its credit, the fist half of it certainly is that. When McConaughey isn’t shirtless in this movie, he has a wet, white t-shirt clinging to him. Other times, he’s completely nude (there are a lot of shots of the man’s butt in this movie). There are several sex scenes that seem to be there just for the sake of them, and their place in this film is only more bizarre once the twist is revealed. Perhaps it truly is just for the sake of tricking the audience into believing that this movie isn’t anything more than what it first appears, and if that’s the case, it’s one hell of a creative decision.
The first half of Serenity does offer some puzzling stylistic choices that hint at something more going on, but they’re so jarring that they’re almost a distraction. There are bizarre, exaggerated pan-around shots of characters, scenes are suddenly cut short to shots of Dill waking up in a cold sweat, there are cheesy music cues that are mixed far too loudly, and there are random, disembodied voices that Dill constantly seems to hear in his head. The exposition at the start of the film is very clunky, and it becomes apparent that Serenity‘s biggest weakness is its dialogue, with awkward lines like “You’ve been bad luck ever since your wife died!”.
What the films does have is a star-studded cast that seems to be having a blast. Once the film does its midway turn into insanity, McConaughey is able to unleash his inner Nicolas Cage, slamming down bottles of rum, going on insane rants, and screaming to the heavens. Hathaway is almost a caricature of a femme fatale, music swells when she first appears to emphasize her beauty, and the island residents constantly bring up just how good looking she is. She absolutely runs with it, you could play an extremely dangerous drinking game for how many times she calls Jason Clarke “daddy”, and Clarke himself is having the time of his life playing an absolutely disgusting scumbag to near cartoonish levels.
It’s Serenity‘s crazy twist that’s gonna make or break audiences. Personally, I kind of dig it. It’s so out there that I can’t help but admire it – writer and director Steven Knight (the creator and writer of the brilliant Peaky Blinders) really swings for the fences, and you at least have to acknowledge his boldness. Some movie-goers might not appreciate being straight up bamboozled though, so if anything, this review stands as a warning to expect the unexpected from this movie. The film’s deranged twist doesn’t just flip the narrative on its head, it practically tosses it into the sea and runs down the street naked, screaming the whole way.
3 / 5 Stars
Serenity is now playing in theaters everywhere.