Serenity is a terrible film made more terrible by the fact that it thinks its brilliant. I was, despite how idiotic it is, disposed to not be so harsh on it, one of those 'so-bad-it's-good' flicks. However, as I thought about its 'twist', I became angered that such a serious subject as domestic abuse could be used as so much filling. With that, my enjoyment crashed faster than Serenity at the box office.
Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) scrapes a living in bucolic Plymouth Island hiring out his boat, Serenity, to fishermen. He also is forever chasing his Minor Dick, a large tuna named 'Justice', and in his down-time he drinks and screws Constance (Diane Lane) while occasionally yelling at Duke (Djimon Hounsou), his second mate.
Enter femme fatale Karen (Anne Hathaway), his ex-wife whom she calls 'John'. She tells Dill/John that her current husband, Frank Zariakas (Jason Clarke) has been violently beating both her and Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), her and Dill's son. She offers him $10 million to lure him to the Serenity and get him to sleep with the fishes.
As Dill equivocates on this, there is a mysterious man forever trying to find Dill. Eventually he does, introducing himself as Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong). When Dill asks Miller who he is, he replies, "I am The Rules", and from here, Serenity manages not just to go way off the deep end but to become more incoherent and idiotic, not to mention insulting and apparently trivializing very serious issues involving spousal & child abuse as well as child killers.
The best way to describe Serenity is as if someone attempted to combined The Truman Show, The Matrix, Lost and St. Elsewhere's series finale and tried to shape this blob into a psychological thriller. It's curious that if not for this 'twist' Serenity could have been a hoot, a collection of nonsensical pseudo-noir nonsense that twists itself into more nonsense.
Yes, I am aware I used 'nonsense/nonsensical' three times in one sentence, but given how whacked out writer/director Stephen Knight was in both departments, why not throw in more nonsense?
Serenity went out of its way to be idiotic on so many levels, and that's before what the film mistakes for a 'twist' that really ends up deflating what little suspense the film had. Once we are led to 'the truth', Knight makes the curious decision to plug away at the A plot when the B plot has removed any tension or suspense. As such, we all kind of don't need to bother with anything in Serenity as it has done itself in by revealing what it thought was brilliant but is really laughable.
It's hard not to laugh at Serenity even before we learn 'the shocking truth' about the story. We have the collected performances of two Oscar winners, two Oscar nominees and Clarke, a generally good actor, all attempting to outdo each other for who can be the worst. From his very first scene Jason Clarke astounds with his hammy, over-the-top acting as Frank. One sits there wondering what is he doing and if he is aware of what he is doing. Hounsou, I think, is attempting to take this seriously, but one cannot be sure his stoicism isn't really just boredom.
Hathaway is fast becoming a parody of an actress. Her horrendous 'British' accent in the alleged comedy The Hustle was already enough of a weapon to hand to the "Hatha-Haters", but now her turn as the vampiest, campiest femme fatale makes her look perpetually lost. I think Hathaway's hats gave better performances.
McConaughey, ever so briefly with Mud, Interstellar and Dallas Buyers Club, made people think there was a legitimate actor behind the pecs and surfer-dude vibe. Serenity shows him revert to form: his line readings as blank as his facial expression. His two scenes with Plymouth gossip queen Lois (Charlotte Butler) both pre-and-post revelation are hilarious though, so much so that at her second scene I was laughing uncontrollably.
He does seem to delight in showing off his still-toned 49-year-old body, particularly when taking nude swims to showcase his smooth bottom. One sequence in his Naked Aquatics Escapades was a bit odd, when in what appears to be a dream/fantasy sequence he's taking a nude swim with his 13-year-old son; this bit, however, sets up that 'twist' which isn't laughable or shocking but merely puzzling, then insulting.
It's not even that 'twist' which comes almost at the end of the movie that pushes Serenity down. It's the source of said 'twist'. I don't think a movie that ends up suggesting it was all a 13-year-old living out online fantasies and killing his abusive stepfather is good. Somehow I think this is a very serious issue, one that should not be treated in such a manner.
It's odd that the 'twist' ended up making Serenity worse than it already was prior to its revelation. It compounds Serenity's awfulness by trying to keep the 'noir' mystery going even after we learn that essentially 'it was all a dream'. Serenity could almost have been a spoof of neo-noir thrillers, campy fun; however, the performances were already bad enough to make it a terrible film before we get the 'twist'.
In the opening scene, one of the paying fishermen tells Dill, "If you think we're going to pay you one f--ing dollar for this fiasco, you're out of your f--ing mind". That seems to capture audience reaction to Serenity better than I can.