‘Serenity’ Can’t Rise Above the Surface

With an all-star cast that includes Matthew McConnaughey, Anne Hathaway and Diane Lane, it could be understandably assumed that Serenity would be a hit. Set on the strange island of Plymouth, McConnaughey plays the oddly named Baker Dill, a fisherman down on his luck, missing every opportunity to catch a tuna fish he decides to name Justice. Dill struggles to keep himself afloat with few employment opportunities available when his ex-wife and mother of his son, Karen, played by Hathaway, pays him a visit with a criminal proposal: kill her abusive husband for ten million dollars. Despite a cast full of Oscar winners and nominees, the Steven Knight-written and directed film disappoints tremendously.

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The film is a prime example of a film that went wrong from its conception. The idea itself isn’t terrible, using the fantasy and thriller genres as tools to portray the coping mechanisms of a young boy. Where the concept loses focus, however, is the medium in which it presents the strange reality. It’s quite clever to use a more mundane occupation to make the environment seem off-putting from the beginning, but fishing is too uninteresting that attempting to make it the center of a mystery is too difficult to believe. Along with a concept that needs improvement, the dialogue makes the film more laughable than bearable. Most of the lines attempt to create a neo-noir vibe but, unfortunately, only make an already flawed central idea even more difficult to take seriously.

And while the cast is packed with some of the best actors today, including Jeremy Strong, the more- than-talented ensemble was doomed from the start with an unsalvageable script and misguided direction. Not only is the dialogue too cheesy to be enjoyable, but the characters aren’t full enough to provide the actors any room to make them remotely interesting. On more than one occasion McConnaughey’s Dill releases screams in frustration that are so weirdly restrained, the only explanation can be that it is a quirky character trait. The overextension of the third act only makes Dill more insufferable, despite McConnaughey’s immense effort. Hathaway, after doing some of her best line delivery in Ocean’s Eight, is done a severe disservice with a role that is solely characterized by the man she’s escaping from and the man she’s escaping to. Even Strong, who has quietly risen to being a much desired actor through his impressive performances in The Big Short and Succession, can’t make his one-dimensional salesman appear as anything other than an odd caricature. Worst of all, the great Diane Lane’s middle-aged spinster is shamefully characterized as someone who has to buy affection; it is offensive to the character and the actor who portrays her.

The creative intention of the film, which is evident throughout, ultimately doesn’t make the end result any better. or the unnecessary panoramic shots and far too many closeups on fishing rods any easier to sit through. Unfortunately, no cast ensemble would be able to fix the mess that is Serenity.

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