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With: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong
Written by: Steven Knight
Directed by: Steven Knight
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images
Running Time: 106
Date: 01/25/2019

Serenity (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

A Fine Kettle of Fish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday, the new Serenity starts like a traditional film noir, glossy and heated, with a drinking, smoking, terminally broke anti-hero and a gorgeous femme fatale with a sweep of blonde hair falling over one eye.

The main character even works on a fishing boat, renting rides to beer-drinking tourists, right out of Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not.

As a modern tribute, something along the lines of more recent movies ranging from Body Heat to Drive, it's almost lovable.

But then Serenity becomes something... well, something that's absolutely not a film noir. And that something just doesn't really work.

Yes, Serenity has a Shyamalan-esque twist, and even if a film isn't good, it's wrong to reveal it. So this review will do the best it can without.

Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a man living, and presumably hiding, on a remote island and running his fishing boat with first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou).

Baker occasionally sleeps with the lonely Constance (Diane Lane) or buys the local drunk a glass of rum. He barely gets by, but there are no real complaints, other than his obsession with catching one particularly elusive, huge tuna he has nicknamed "Justice."

Then, she walks in. She's Karen (Anne Hathaway), and she and Baker have a past, and a son, together.

She's currently married to a drunken, violent brute, Frank (Jason Clarke). Frank is coming to the island for a fishing trip, and Karen will pay Baker $10 million to take the husband out on the ocean, get him drunk, kill him, and feed him to the sharks.

That's a pretty solid start, right out of Double Indemnity or Human Desire or many other classics. Serenity is the third feature film directed by the veteran screenwriter Steven Knight, whose last directorial effort, Locke, with Tom Hardy, was a model of economy and rich character development.

Knight also wrote the excellent screenplays for the dark crime films Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. When he's good, he's very, very good.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, given his work on things like the illogical Eric Bana thriller Closed Circuit, the dud The Girl in the Spider's Web, and the barely-released November Criminals. (He also, believe it or not, created the TV quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.) Serenity joins this latter list.

It seems as if Knight is at his best when a movie has time to slow down and look at the small ways in which characters interact with the dark things that happen to them. Serenity moves a little too fast.

The characters go through their heightened film noir motions, where everything is booze and dames and murder and money. Then we discover more about Baker's son, who is seen endlessly staring at a computer screen and tapping at a glowing keyboard.

And everything changes, and the bigger-than-life characters are forced to emote in a new environment, and it all begins to feel outsized and silly.

Not to mention that once the reveal takes place, it casts a new light on everything we've just seen. When a good twist works, it expands on a story. This one collapses. The whole storyline makes little sense, and is, in a way, uncomfortably icky.

Knight makes the mistake of trying to foreshadow his big idea early on with some odd camera movements and some nightmare/dream sequences, but it doesn't help. And while a little ambiguity might have been nice, Serenity finally explains every last detail to the last possible outcome.

Similar, twisty films like Dark City and The Village saved their final zowie moment for the film's final moments, but Serenity unfolds its twist too slowly and exposes it too much. Actually, if it were a fish, it would have gone belly-up.

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