‘Serenity’ Review — Steven Knight’s Neo-Noir is Wildly Ambitious and Wildly Uneven

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Serenity Review

On a secluded tropical island blood is in the water and the sharks are circling. In writer-director’s Steven Knight neo-noir Serenity, predators are always in search of prey though nothing is quite what it seems. Serenity is a fascinating films at times and frustrating at others. It’s a film that has trouble coalescing into a captivating whole. However, even though I think the film doesn’t work overall Steven Knight really goes for it with one of the most audacious twists of recent memory. Serenity is a ballsy work, just one that doesn’t come together as intended.

Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain living in paradise. He makes his living taking tourists out on his fishing boat with his first-mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou). But Baker Dill is headstrong and stubborn, and his determination often undermines his business. When he’s not on the high seas, he’s having an affair with Constance (Diane Lane). With the bank threatening to repossess his boat, the pressures are mounting for the flailing fisherman. An unexpected lifeline comes into his life in the form of Karen (Anne Hathaway), his ex-wife and the mother of his son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh). Karen has married Frank (Jason Clarke), an abusive drunk with plenty of money. She has a simple proposition: Take Frank fishing, get him drunk, and push him overboard for the sharks to tear apart. For this, Baker will receive ten million dollars in cash.

The set up for Serenity feels like any number of neo-noirs, but it made me think of the work of James M. Cain and his classic tale The Postman Always Rings Twice. Knight is clear in establishing Baker Dill’s desperation to the point where murder for hire seems like a viable plan. However, the writer-director is toying with expectations. What at first seems like a neo-noir set in paradise takes a wild turn that nobody could possibly predict when Baker Dill encounters a mysterious character named Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong). The information that this bespectacled man of mystery gives to Baker flips everything on its head – the characters, the story, and how the audience interacts with the film. It doesn’t work but it’s a bold, uncompromising choice that you have to respect for its brazen audacity.

Serenity is like a movie that’s split in two very different parts. The first being an homage to so many classic noirs and the other being an ambitious existential crisis that invites the audience and the characters to question the very nature of reality. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if at theaters nationwide there’s a collective screaming of “WHAT?!?” whenever the film gets to its big twist.

Serenity is like a movie that’s split in two very different parts. The first being an homage to so many classic noirs and the other being an ambitious existential crisis that invites the audience and the characters to question the very nature of reality. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if at theaters nationwide there’s a collective screaming of “WHAT?!?” whenever the film gets to its big twist.

The cast delivers solid work in spite of the film’s uneven plotting. McConaughey is at home in a tropical setting, the star’s face almost custom made to be tanned and dripping sweat beside a crystal clear ocean. Anne Hathaway is strong in the dual role of the damsel in distress and femme fatale, giving an ambiguous sense to her character’s true nature. As the brute drunkard Frank, Jason Clarke is truly menacing. But Knight’s film struggles to find a flow between these elements, and that’s mostly because it’s just so wildly ambitious that it can’t really focus on one particular element for too long.

Serenity is gorgeous to look at with its beautiful scenery of Mauritius Island captured by cinematographer Jess Hall. The unreal beauty of the location amplifies the film’s uneasy reality. However, it just never sizzles. Serenity is just a film that’s always simmering. While I don’t think the film works, I have nothing but the utmost admiration for Knight sticking to his guns and really going for an unconventional second half to his film that buck convention at every turn and in every sense. Too bad, though, that Serenity’s brazen ambition doesn’t culminate into much more than a bold curiosity that will get lost in a sea of redundancy.

Serenity
  • Overall Score
2

Summary

A bold, ambitious neo-noir, Steven Knight’s Serenity never plays its safe but it fails to coalesce into a captivating drama despite its wildly unpredictable twists.

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