Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Clarke, Jeremy Strong, Rafael Sayegh
Writer: Steven Knight
Director: Steven Knight
Distributor: Aviron Pictures
Release Date: January 25, 2019
SERENITY, the new movie that is absolutely not to be confused with Joss Whedon’s 2005 science-fiction drama, starts out as what feels like a heartfelt modern homage to the film noir of yore. Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) – an assumed name, natch – is scraping out a living as a charter fishing boat captain. Baker currently lives on Plymouth, a picturesque island, apparently somewhere off the Florida coast, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Baker has become so completely obsessed with catching in a particular giant tuna that he actual pulls a knife on a couple of paying customers. This has no legal consequences whatever – law enforcement seems lax on Plymouth – but it shows us how strongly Baker feels about this.
We can tell Baker is a man with a tragic past long before the glamorous and wealthy Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up. Karen is Baker’s ex-wife. She’s been with construction mogul – and criminal – Frank (Jason Clarke) for ten years. Trouble is, Frank abuses Karen. Worse, he’s hit Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), who is Karen and Baker’s now-adolescent son. Karen claims that she cannot safely leave Frank. She offers Baker ten million in cash if he’ll take Frank out on a fishing excursion and kill him.
Up until this point, and for a bit longer, SERENITY is pitch-perfect. Baker is haunted by his past – the horrors of war, being unable to see his son – the atmosphere is thick and pleasingly eccentric, and Plymouth is agreeably colorful in both the visual and figurative sense of the word.
This is also a classic noir set-up, so we expect SERENITY (which is, not coincidentally, also the name of Baker’s boat) to move down one of several equally classic roads. The best noirs have twists we don’t see coming. Well, SERENITY certainly has a twist, but director/writer Steven Knight doesn’t seem to know how to make it resonate with where we’ve been going up until that point.
Knight can’t be faulted for laying the groundwork. There’s a clearly non-local, befuddled looking gent in a suit (Jeremy Strong) who is trying to find Baker and always just missing him, who is clearly tied to some additional story factor (also classic noir). There is also the hint of a psychic connection between father and son.
So far, so good. McConaughey is soulful and committed as the stubborn, driven, reasonably principled Baker. Hathaway hits all the marks as the troubled, damaged, desperate Karen. Clarke is entertaining loathsome as the despicable Frank (although he is written as so very awful that we start to wonder about Baker’s reluctance to shove him overboard – after Frank announces his vacation intentions, plenty of audience members would volunteer to do the deed). Diane Lane has a great time with the tough islander who hooks up with Baker from time to time, and Djimon Hounsou plays Baker’s compassionate first mate.
When the big twist comes, to use one of the movie’s metaphors, it’s as filmmaker Knight has hooked a subject that is so huge it pulls SERENITY out of his hands. It’s difficult to discuss the problem without major spoilers. To try to convey the issue in the vaguest terms, we can see what Knight is going for in trying to pose some worthy existential questions, but when he gets to them, there isn’t enough time for much exploration. It’s also unclear how some action impacts other action, even though they’re supposed to be inextricably linked. (By the way, ignore the publicity tagline, as it is fairly misleading.)
SERENITY is watchable throughout, but it gets away from its makers, and from us, well before it ends.
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Article: Movie Review: SERENITY