Movie review: Serenity

A seafaring crime drama never quite catches its wave

Serenity (Ticho před bouří)
Directed by Steven Knight
With Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong

January can be a dumping ground for films that just missed the mark. The thriller Serenity has an A-list cast but a plot that in the end is just too derivative of better films.

And for a thriller, it is a bit economical on suspense. There are some good performances and a decent enough setting. But what might have made a nice Twilight Zone episode is stretched out a bit too long.

Writer-director Steven Knight, who also wrote the recent bomb The Girl in the Spider's Web, tries to take viewers into Vanilla Sky or Inception territory, where something about reality is just a bit off.

The first clue that reality is unreal is a man in a black suit with a thin tie and briefcase named Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) wandering around the otherwise idyllic tropical island setting, trying to catch local fisherman Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) before he sets out in his small fishing boat. It is the same sort of man-in-black character seen in every hip and edgy film since The Matrix some 20 years ago.

Baker Dill operates on an island called Plymouth, an odd name for a Caribbean island, if it is even in the Caribbean. The layout seems to be just a few houses, and the same handful of people every day, sort of like in The Truman Show or Pleasantville.

The film takes place in modern times, but there is no hint of the internet, and people use pay phones. It is all meant to get the audience guessing.

Dill has an obsession with catching one big fish, like something out of Moby Dick or the Old Man and the Sea.

But that turns out to be a giant red herring, as far as the plot goes.

The film changes tact and begins to falter when Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway) turns up as an out-of-date 1940s-style film noir femme fatale, with a ludicrous large hat and even worse dialogue. She introduces a crime subplot that is relatively simple but gets drawn out ad naseum.

McConaughey and Hathaway worked well together in Interstellar, another reality bending film, so their lack of chemistry here is a bit baffling.

Veteran actress Diane Lane, as local island resident Constance, creates a more credible love interest but her scenes are relatively brief. McConaughey and Lane are a more interesting couple than McConaughey and Hathaway, which ultimately hurts the film.
Djimon Hounsou gives solid support as Dill’s crewmate and moral touchstone Duke, and almost manages to lend an air of sense to some of the odd goings-on. But that is a big task.

Serenity never quite finds its tone, though. It isn’t quite a neo-noir, nor is it a sun-baked romance, nor is it a man versus nature sea drama. It flip-flops back and forth, and becomes highly repetitive as Dill tries to get to the bottom of the twisted reality.

The revelations are not as shocking as intended, and the main one turns out to be pretty obvious to anyone who was paying attention.

Films that play with reality such as The Matrix or Inception, or Alex Proyas underrated 1998 film Dark City, leave the audience with many points to discuss about the alternate worlds created in the films. Serenity’s explanation is ultimately ho-hum. While it answers most of the plot’s questions, it doesn’t provoke the viewer to expand his or her outlook on the world.

Some critics have declared that even though it is only January, they have already found the year’s worst film. Looking at the list of coming remakes and reboots, especially in horror territory, there will certainly be much worse than this crime thriller.

Serenity’s main failing is that it took an idea that should have been compelling and a cast that was capable of greatness and delivered something that is simply forgettable.

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