Serenity | Steven Knight | January 25, 2019
Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) spends his days in the beautiful beachside village of Plymouth taking rich tourists out game-fishing on his boat (of course named Serenity) along with his first mate Duke (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Djimon Hounsou). What should be easy money doesn’t come so for Dill, who constantly hijacks the main fishing rod from his customers to catch an elusive bluefin tuna, which represents the void in his life and is made clear when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives out of the blue, asking him to kill and dispose of her abusive, and sleazy husband Frank (Winchester‘s Jason Clarke) to protect Dill’s son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) and earn $10 million. Dill begins to contemplate this task, but becomes even more conflicted when an odd man named Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) appears, which turns his entire worldview upside down, leaving Dill questioning his life, Plymouth, and its residents. Soon, he isn’t sure what is real or in his head, and both he and the audience have to figure out what is actually going on.
If this sounds like a strange experience just from this snapshot synopsis above, just wait until you see Serenity (in no way related to the 2005 Joss Whedon film) play out. Directed and written by Steven Knight (Locke & Redemption), Serenity goes to some extreme lengths of ridiculous pulp and mystery that stretches the imagination to the point of absurdity. Only the payoff isn’t one that makes much sense, the journey to get there becomes a nonsensical nightmare that isn’t delivered well enough to make sense, and it isn’t self-aware enough to embrace its trashy nature to ever find a path into the “so bad it’s good” territory. It’s just a perplexing vision that never finds balanced footing and slowly but surely becomes an unsalvagable mess.
Despite the efforts of its undeniably stacked and talented cast, Serenity is a journey that leaves the viewer completely lost at sea. It’s an astonishing feat to take great actors such as McConaughey and Hathaway and feed them lines that they seemed reluctant to say aloud on screen. On more than one occasion, the Oscar-winning McConaughey is given nothing more to do than the scream in frustration in a moment that feels more like a Youtube compilation of Nic Cage howls than a meaningful burst of emotion. The most balanced performance comes from the vastly underused Djimon Hounsou, followed by Diane Lane’s appearance as Constance, Dill’s current flame. Jeremy Strong does the best he can to elevate some painful lines of dialogue, but poor Jason Clarke feels like a bad cartoon character come to life. There’s nothing that this cast of actors can do to save this one.
When Serenity shows all of its hands and you see the intended resolution, it’s clear that Knight does have his heart in the right place. It’s just completely misguided and sloppy that its message lands with a thud, totally lost as you can’t help but realize that the actors would rather be anywhere but in this film. You’re left feeling many things by the end of it, but you’re miles away from feeling anything close to serenity.