One of the things I like about high-concept films is that they are usually win-win. For every compelling piece of cinema such as The Matrix (1999), Inception (2010) or Hereditary (2018) you’ve got a so-bad-it’s-almost-good movie such as Serenity.
The film is an often ridiculous contemporary-noir produced, written and directed by Steven Knight, a filmmaker who, after his last few cinematic contributions, may consider another line of work. Though to be fair, five years ago when Steven Knight himself last directed (the critically acclaimed Locke starring Tom Hardy and only Tom Hardy), it was a high-concept film that impressed just about anyone. Sadly, Serenity is not on the same level, or even dimension.
Certainly, the film features some talent. You have Matthew McConaughey as a retired soldier-turned-gruff fishing boat captain named Baker Dill. This is a return to form by him, and by that I mean it isn’t the talented award-winning actor you know from interesting films such as Interstellar (2014), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) or Dallas Buyers Club (2013), but it is that star who’s starred in dozens of poor films with half-hearted performances, where it seemed like his only motivation was to collect his paycheck and show off his abs, posterior and Southern charm.
The mindless thriller Serenity could have been mind-blowing in the hands of a more competent director than Steven Knight
You also have Djimon Hounsou, the talented actor of Beninese descent as our hero’s first mate Duke, whose performance suggests he wants to kill his agent, and Anne Hathaway in blonde hair as Karen Zariakas, Baker Dill’s ex-wife, and the only person in the film giving it her best. Others include Jason Clarke playing Karen’s abusive husband Frank and Diane Lane (Constance) as Baker Dill’s girlfriend, playing the clichéd role of the attractive older woman with the hots for the protagonist. It feels like her only function is to aid the film in producing gratuitous shots of McConaughey.
One fine day, in a kitschy setting drenched with atmosphere, the depressed-looking Baker Dill (perhaps he’s upset about his stupid name) meets his ex-wife again. Here, he learns that she’s unhappy (like just about everyone else in the film). Her source of grief is her husband who abuses her. She asks Baker to kill him while taking him out fishing and make it look like an accident. For this, she promises him a large sum of money.
Then follow other plot twists, so silly and random that you wouldn’t be surprised if the film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan on acid. When Baker Dill finally connects with businessman Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), he hears a revelation that turns his world upside down and makes us choke on our popcorn.
In the first of many amusing plot twists in the film, our hero agrees after realising he has a connection that goes beyond the biological with the son he had with Karen. This son is named Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) and he develops the sort of video games the producers of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch would be proud of. Then follow other plot twists, so silly and random that you wouldn’t be surprised if the film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan on acid. When Baker Dill finally connects with businessman Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), he hears a revelation that turns his world upside down and makes us choke on our popcorn.
Perhaps in the hands of a more competent director, Serenity would have been the mind-blowing thriller it wants to be, but as it stands, it is a confused mess.
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some bloody images
Published in Dawn, ICON, February 3rd, 2019