One twist too far?
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway lead this twisty Sky Cinema Originals noir thriller, but can they save it?Writer Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) made his debut with the somewhat atypical Jason Statham actioner Hummingbird, but arguably garnered more interest for his one-man drama, Locke, with Tom Hardy on a phone in a car for the entire duration. Serenity represents his most audacious project, somewhat ill-advisedly using the same name as the 2005 Joss Whedon big screen Firefly sequel, and worryingly having to share its cinema release with a same day-and-date Sky premiere.
Certainly, in terms of production value and sheer cinematic feel, out of almost all of the best calibre projects on Netflix, Amazon and Sky (from Annihilation to Anon), Serenity stands out, not least because of its all-star cast, which sees Matthew McConaughey giving his all to this lead project, supported by the likes of his Interstellar co-star Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke and Djimon Hounsou. It's a well-acted, well-shot, and thoroughly intriguing neo-noir thriller, but you can just feel a twist coming - the question is, will it complete the film or completely ruin it?
It's a well-acted, well-shot, and thoroughly intriguing neo-noir thriller, but you can just feel a twist coming
Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a near-broke local fisherman who has a Moby Dick/Captain Ahab-style obsession with catching a big fish. The only think keeping him afloat is a mutually beneficial arrangement he has with a rich local called Constance (Diane Lane), but his luck changes when his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) turns up in town. Unfortunately, he realises that it may not have necessarily changed for the better, as she approaches him with a proposition to kill her rich and viciously abusive husband (Jason Clarke).
The interesting thing about Serenity is that it feels like it would have worked perfectly well as a straight neo-noir thriller. Hot locations, sweating bodies, colourful characters with violent temperaments - hell, most of the first act is dedicated to establishing the lead character's Captain Ahah-like obsession with catching a damn fish; a story itself which has worked several times as the narrative for a whole film (c.f. The Old Man and the Sea).
Knight is clearly not content with operating at that level however, and you can see why. A straight story may have garnered criticism for being overly familiar, overly formulaic - not original enough. So he went the other way, crafting a tale within a tale within a tale, absorbing as much playful misdirection as he could from the likes of Scorsese's Shutter Island and Nolan's Inception, and reframing it in a way which is both surprisingly narrow and personal, and also unabashedly meta. And which doesn't work.
The interesting thing about Serenity is that it feels like it would have worked perfectly well as a straight neo-noir thriller
As a result of Knight's overly ambitious subterfuge, the whole film starts to go off the rails about halfway through, leaving the audience grappling with the impending 'truth', desperate to hold on to the effective premise - to hold on to what they hope was the reality of what they were watching - only to instead watch it slip away right before their eyes. Credit to the cast, none of them drop the ball despite the sheer insanity of what they are playing with, with McConaughey sweating blood to get the job done.
Whilst you can see why both him and Hathaway would have been aggrieved when the production studios elected to drop all promotion of the movie and ditch it unceremoniously with little to no fanfare, you can also understand why - from a purely commercial standpoint - this was a no-brainer. There is a vaguely good idea here, but if Knight wanted to go full gonzo, he would have been better off embracing the fantasy and delivering something clever like The Babadook, rather than trying to create a world where this pure insanity makes some kind of sense. It's a shame because that may have actually worked and, if not, Knight should have just played it straight - this end result is not the film that anybody was really looking for, and is more a testament to how committed a cast and crew can be on a production that almost everybody should have seen was utterly and fatally flawed right from the outset.
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