Serenity is a highly ambitious and deeply misbegotten attempt to make a modern film noir. Writer-Director Steven Knight has something going for him in Serenity but continues to undermine himself and his movie with bizarre choices that lead to an unsatisfying and almost laughable, laugh out loud conclusion. The film strands an incredible cast in what approximates a Shyamalan level of lunatic aspiration.
Matthew McConaughey stars in Serenity as, no I am not making this up, Baker Dill. Baker is a fishing boat captain catering to tourists on a mysterious tropical island called Plymouth. Baker has a passion for fishing but specifically a passion for one specific fish, a giant Tuna that he has come to call Justice, and yes it is heavily tortured metaphor. No points for guessing that as the film hammers the point into your brain pan.
Baker is seemingly driven only by this giant tuna but lately other things have begun to permeate his consciousness. Specifically, Baker has recently been plagued by memories and visions of a son he left behind when he went to war in Iraq. Upon his return, his then girlfriend and the mother of his child, Karen (Anne Hathaway), has moved on and married another man and cut Baker out her and her son’s life.
Baker’s visions of his son are truly bizarre as he appears to be able to hear his son’s voice and vaguely communicate with him with some sort of water based ESP. In one of the film’s epically bizarre scenes, a naked Baker swims in the ocean with his also naked teenage son. Why? There is no good reason, it’s just something that director Steven Knight thought might communicate the strange, water based ESP thing I mentioned before. The nudity is an off-putting choice to say the least.
Out of the water, Baker is approached by his ex-wife with a proposition. Karen wants Baker to take her husband Frank (Jason Clarke) out fishing and toss him to the fishes. In exchange, Karen is offering $10 million dollars and perhaps the chance to see his son again. Baker immediately rejects the idea despite Karen telling him that Frank has been abusive toward her and toward their son. After meeting the epically awful Frank, Baker still resists but will his psychic connection to his son change his mind.
No, that last line is not me being snarky… well, not entirely snarky. The plot does legitimately turn on whether Baker’s fuzzy, incomplete, ESP connection to his son will cause him to accept the offer to murder Frank and it is as goofy as that sounds. There is a great deal more however to the connection between father and son including a looney final act twist that left me utterly gobsmacked. The ending of Serenity is surprising but not a good surprise, more of a WTF surprise.
In an effort to take the classic noir thriller to a place that might appeal to the hip, modern, technically advanced older teen and twenty-something crowd, director Steven Knight has conceived a twist that is remarkably hokey and tone deaf. It’s the kind of twist that middle aged folks like myself laugh at and younger types will straight up ignore in the way you ignore grandpa’s less than helpful comments on Facebook posts.
It’s a twist that works remarkably well at alienating audiences of all ages, uniting generations in eye-rolls of epic proportions and derisive laughter that will last till we reach the parking lot of the local theater. Honestly, I do admire the sheer madness of the twist attempted in Serenity but I can’t help but mock the result. The execution is so laughable and clumsy that jaw dropping exasperation can only evolve into giggles of sheer schadenfreude.
I take no genuine pleasure in laughing at rather than with Serenity. These are a group of incredibly talented actors and a director I really do respect. Steven Knight directed Locke, an exceptional and experimental thriller that got the best out of the great Tom Hardy and demonstrated the talent for talking out loud to himself that would make Venom so sneakily entertaining. Knight knows how to make a movie. Serenity is merely an example of a hill to hard to climb to a destination that wasn’t worth climbing to.