Friday 16 July 2021

Movie Review: Serenity (2019)

A film noir drama, Serenity is ambitious but deeply flawed, with a dumbfounding plot twist undermining the narrative into fatal irrelevance.

In the fictional Caribbean-like enclave of Plymouth Island, where everyone appears to know everything about everyone else, Iraq War veteran Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) operates the Serenity as a tourist fishing boat. But instead of looking after his customers he is obsessed with catching an elusive big tuna, and he can barely afford to pay his loyal second-in-command Duke (Djimon Hounsou). Dill provides sexual favours to Constance (Diane Lane) in return for desperately needed cash.

Dill's ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives unexpectedly and offers him $10 million to kill her current abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke). She urges him to commit the murder for the sake of their son Patrick, who is suffering in an abusive household. In the meantime tweedy sales rep Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), incongruously dressed in a suit and tie, offers Dill a fish tracking device to help him snag the big tuna. Dill starts to suspect all is not what it seems.

Written and directed by Steven Knight, Serenity ought to be applauded at some level for trying something new. But unfortunately, the second half is unsalvageable, veering into weird waters and blowing a hole in its own hull. Once Knight starts to pull back the curtain on the story he really wants to tell, no worthwhile emotional investment can be justified in the characters or events.

The opening half is a decent enough modern noir mixing reasonably engaging ingredients. Dill is a sweaty and deeply flawed protagonist hiding out in an exotic locale, chasing his unattainable fish, lamenting separation from his son, and never expecting to achieve anything beyond selfish survival and control over his boat. Karen arrives with a tolerable approximation of a femme fatale, offering breathy remorse and unimaginable money in exchange for the small matter of murder. Intended victim Frank oozes slimy evil, a perfect shark food candidate if ever there was one.

Dill agonizes over Karen's offer, and the early involvement of fish-out-of-water sales agent Reid Miller is an initially edgy angle. But then all the promising metaphors and moral dilemmas dissolve into something much more obtuse and remarkably uninteresting. Serenity lists, then just sinks.

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