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Review: Serenity (2019)

Serenity (2019)

Directed by: Steven Knight

Premise: A charter boat captain (Matthew McConaughey) living on an isolated island community is contacted by his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway). She offers to pay him millions of dollars to murder her abusive new husband (Jason Clarke).

What Works: Serenity mostly takes place in tropical locales and the movie is visually striking. It has a flavor for its setting and the cinematography captures the beauty and ruggedness of the landscape as well as the humidity of the climate. This is also a film that’s distinguished by its singularity. In a cinematic marketplace that is full of sequels and remakes and in which most major releases are risk adverse, Serenity is a bizarre Hail Mary pass of a motion picture. 

What Doesn’t: The problem with Serenity’s wild throw for the creative end zone is that it absolutely fumbles what it’s trying to do. The movie’s failure is itself kind of spectacular; Serenity presents itself as one kind of movie but halfway through there is a big reveal that is bonkers. The twist is stupid and Serenity was probably doomed from the outset but the filmmakers’ every effort to make the concept work just amplifies the movie’s problems. Critiquing Serenity is a unique challenge; the whole film rests on a peculiar twist and revealing that twist in a review is a disservice to the viewer, so I won’t do that here, but this limits my ability to fully explain what’s wrong with Serenity. Suffice it to say that this film is pretentious nonsense. Serenity is the kind of film that thinks it’s profound and deep but it is actually quite superficial. The moral conflicts are forced and the big reveal contains really troubling and lazily argued justifications for murder. There’s a metaphysical element to the twist that doesn’t make any sense; the nature of reality comes into question but the film does not work through even the most obvious questions that it raises. When big twists are successful, as they were in The Sixth Sense or the original Planet of the Apes, they enhance the experience and make us rethink everything we’ve seen. In Serenity, the more the reveal is interrogated, the quicker the whole story falls apart. Serenity intends to be an erotic noir thriller but the film fails here as well, coming off almost as a parody. Many of the elements of film noir are present in Serenity but they aren’t done with any competence. Anne Hathaway is especially terrible. She’s trying to be a smoldering femme fatale but Hathaway comes off as an imitation of that kind of character, one that wouldn’t be out of place in The Naked Gun.

Bottom Line: Serenity is a bizarre failure. The movie doesn’t work as a noir thriller or as a morality tale but its pretensions push it beyond just a bad movie star vehicle and into the territory of legendary debacles like The Room and Collateral Beauty.

Episode: #737 (February 17, 2019)