Steven Knight (Locke, Peaky Blinders) takes several risks as writer and director of this film, stretching his talents into this sun-filled thriller that misses the mark that others have achieved so well. Serenity boasts a stellar cast of individuals; at the front are Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane and Djimon Hounsou each trying to pull back from the clunky dialogue and a subtext so direct it just becomes text. While the film tries to ground itself in the father-son relationship between McConaughey and his son the plot loses itself by trying to be more complicated than it actually is.
Set on the fictitious island of Plymouth, Baker Dill (McConaughey) spends his days fishing with tourists and his second in command Duke (Djimon Hounsou). In the first scene we see Baker obsessed about catching a very large tuna which he has named ‘Justice’, in the first of many on-the-nose plot points. From there Baker Dill decides to earn some extra cash by sleeping with Constance (Diane Lane); it’s an odd addition to the story and seemingly goes nowhere other than to provide some colour to the characters.
Serenity has a main selling point and it is the twist, which is heavily hinted at throughout the film and when it arrives you are reminded of other shows that have done it much better on smaller budgets. On a positive note, the location is filmed in Mauritius so it does look amazing, but I am a Mauritian and seeing these locations on the big screen is a joy not everyone will share.
Serenity finds its momentum once Anne Hathaway enters the film as Baker Dill’s ex-wife, Karen. She proposes that Baker should take her abusive husband on his boat and drop him in the ocean, from there the film leads to an interesting set of philosophical points about conscience and morality, all of which gets swept under the films attempt to be more complex. It boils down to the option of either murder or continuing to catch the tuna ‘Justice’ he has his eyes on, no matter how much window dressing the film gives it there’s just no saving a bad script.
The film tries to set up the big twist ending by incorporating a contrived atmosphere of surveillance, where news on the island travels very fast and everyone knows everything. The atmosphere is most epitomised by the character Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) who spends the film in a suit and bowler hat constantly trying to catch up to Baker Dill. The only actor who doesn’t feel out of place is Djimon Hounsou, mainly because he just gets to play an ordinary guy.
Despite the poor setup of the twist, the clunky dialogue and sometimes wooden performances, Serenity is not dull. It might be excruciatingly stupid but it is not the worst film Matthew McConaughey has been in set on an island – Fool’s Gold springs to mind. For an evening watching this film felt like a few hours I might not get back, but then it is nice to laugh at a film now and again, falling into that so bad-its-good category.
Serenity is out now.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
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