Synopsis: The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong
Director: Steven Knight
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: When you’ve been following movies as long as I have, you tend you get a feel for when a stinker is approaching. Take Serenity as a prime example. Here you have a movie headlined by two Oscar winners featuring an additional two Oscar nominees in supporting roles written and directed by another Oscar nominated filmmaker arriving in cinemas with no promotion and no buzz. Even more curious is that it’s being released the same week Oscar nominations were announced, typically a popular weekend for audiences to catch up on films going for the gold. This is a movie everyone, including the fledgling studio that produced it, is clearly hoping will go away quietly.
Set on a small island community where the days are hot and the nights wet, the film opens with a heavy dose of overbaked Hemmingway finding fishing captain Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike) obsessing over a monster tuna that continually evades him. Audiences prepped for a steamy thriller by the previews are in for an off-kilter start as tuna talk takes up a good twenty minutes at the offset with McConaughey jabbering on about this fish to his first mate (Djimon Hounsou, The Legend of Tarzan), the town floozy (Diane Lane, Man of Steel), and anyone else within earshot. It’s not until a blonde bombshell from his past (Anne Hathaway, The Intern) enters the picture that the cash strapped Dill gets lured away from the titan tuna and hooked into a murder plot that leads to several large twists.
Written and directed by Steven Knight, who earned an Oscar nomination for 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things and was responsible for the hackneyed script for 2018’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the crux of Serenity hinges on a plot twist so bonkers that when I figured out it was coming I was almost begging for it not to be true. Even though it makes the film harder to review, I won’t spoil it for you. The twist comes from such a strange place and is at times so outright bizarre that I could see it almost working had Knight fully committed to it from the beginning. When it’s revealed around the halfway mark it just doesn’t hold up if you carefully replay the first part of the movie back in your mind.
That’s not to say Serenity might not have been a moderately enjoyable bit of C-movie trash had it been released as a Netflix original film with a lesser lauded cast. There’s something about the gathering of this caliber of talent that instantly elevates the movie to a higher level of prestige and, in doing so, invites a closer scrutiny of everyone involved. If the film starred Chris Pine and Mila Kunis in place of McConaughey and Hathaway, for example, I don’t think we’d be running the film through the same wringer. Knight’s script is heavy to the point of Mel Brooks spoofing on noir symbolism (though admittedly there’s a reason for that) and he’s given everyone at least one doozy of a line they have to deliver with a straight face. Example, from Hathaway: “You gave me this ring and said, ‘With this stupid ring, I thee wed, baby’…I memorized that.” Really? She memorized that? I mean, it’s not Shakespeare but…
Thinking about the performances after the fact, I’m wondering if only one actor knew about the twist. How else to explain the disconnect between what we know as an audience and what is being happening on screen. McConaughey plays things so deadly serious that you can’t help but laugh at his misguided intensity at the most minor of emotions. His reaction to catching a fish is pretty much in line with deciding whether or not to kill Hathaway’s abusive husband (a snarling Jason Clarke, All I See Is You). He’s either drunkenly stumbling around the island or cliff jumping naked into a deep blue vision quest. Some may find it worth the price of admission just for the gratuitous shots of McConaughey’s rump, which I think gets more screen time than Diane Lane.
Hathaway doesn’t seem like much of a femme fatale in my book and though she admirably goes for it here, I prefer her taking on bad girl roles that have a sly wink to them (think Oceans 8) instead of the cold calculation of her character here. I often wondered why Lane wasn’t playing this part instead – she seemed like a better fit for the role. As the lone voice of reason in an increasingly crazed cast of characters, Hounsou does what he can with his thankless role and Jeremy Strong (The Judge) kept my attention as a mysterious man following McConaughey’s every move.
Sometimes a movie is so bad I feel like recommending it just so we can have that shared experience of saying we survived it together. Right now, with the way our country is going and the amount of problems we’re facing…adding Serenity to that list seems irresponsible. It’s a movie you absolutely should avoid at all costs and skip over when it inevitably pops up on your streaming service in a month or so. Everyone involved is capable of better – even the title needed more thought.