“Serenity” is written and directed by Steven Knight whose previous film, “Locke,” starring Tom Hardy is a favorite. Unfortunately, this second attempt wearing both the writer’s and director’s hats doesn’t quite work. Matthew McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a charter fisherman on the pristine and remote island called Plymouth Island. Dill finds his sole focus is catching the Big One, the one that gets away, time after time. His focus quickly changes when his ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), shows up with a story of spousal abuse and an offer that he just can’t refuse…or can he?
Karen shares her abusive stories and promises Dill $10M if he agrees to bring her husband Frank (Jason Clarke) on a fishing expedition where he will go overboard and become fish food. In need of money and his connection to the child back home, Dill considers the offer, but there’s something off. In fact, there’s something that feels a bit hinky during most of the film, or at least until the big reveal. You can’t quite put your finger on it, and it does keep you hooked, but there are too many expressions that make your eyes roll and these characters just seem too over-the-top. You hope that it’s an element of supernatural as Knight eludes to that, drawing you down a particular path, only to be capsized.
“Serenity” certainly had potential, but it seems that Knight lost touch with the arc of the story line and the importance of the topics at hand. Addressing complex issues such as abuse and coping mechanisms, particularly with children and women is a tough topic, and this bizarre approach would have worked at if the twist was revealed significantly earlier. We then could have been allowed to appreciate and understand the characters more fully as well as the situations at hand.
With knowing the twist, McConaughey’s portrayal of the man with a secret, escaping from something we are not yet privy to while creating a persona of individuality, and strength is spot on even if it is rather one dimensional. His first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) is equally strong, but stable; the voice of wisdom. Hounsou evokes trust immediately from you as you urge Dill to listen to him. Hathaway gives us a sense of a femme fatale character with her mysterious and sudden appearances, her beauty, and emitting a sense of distrustfulness. Hathaway is always a pleasure to see in any role and she finds a way to add interest to this otherwise seemingly bizarre film. Clarke portrays a character that is pure evil, perhaps too evil and that is in part thanks to Knights’ choice in dialogue as he refers to despicable acts upon young girls. He pushes the evil a bit too far given that this is a fictional tale—we just didn’t need that as Frank was awful enough without that. Jeremy Strong plays Reid Miller, the oddball, suit-wearing, spectacled man always trying to catch up with Dill. His character throws a wrench into anything you might have thought was happening, but he’s a welcomed character as he puts the narrative into a higher gear. Unfortunately, Diane Lane’s character of Constance, Dill’s friend (and bank account) with benefits is quite forgettable and unnecessary.
Again, much of what I have described doesn’t make sense until close to the end and by that time you already have a sour taste in your mouth. There wasn’t enough Orbit gum to cover that up and allow you to see the film for what it was trying to be. On the surface, the film is about abuse and questioning right versus wrong and all those shades in between. But as you delve more deeply, the women in how they are portrayed is disappointing as well as the overall message.
Again, after knowing the twist and understanding that the film is about abuse and how to cope, it misses the boat. With the sex, language, and references made, it’s also difficult to see who the target audience is. It’s too harsh for kids who might be experiencing abuse and its an exercise in frustration for the rest of us.
2 1/2 Stars