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Nothing serene about this noir flick

Serenity's hammy dialogues and illogical, ludicrous twist ending will only leave you agitated

Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a debt-ridden, hard-drinking burnout who sometimes sleeps with Constance (Diane Lane).  (Graham Bartholomew/Aviron Pictures via AP)</p>

Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a debt-ridden, hard-drinking burnout who sometimes sleeps with Constance (Diane Lane). (Graham Bartholomew/Aviron Pictures via AP)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2019 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Funny how things go. When I went to see Serenity, I walked past an auditorium screening Glass.

“No M. Night Shyamalan twist ending for me,” I thought. “I’m going to see Serenity, a sexy, noir-inflected thriller in which a femme fatale tries to convince a former flame to kill her abusive husband.”

I was thinking of the film’s trailer, which seemed to promise a 21st-century version of Body Heat.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2019 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Funny how things go. When I went to see Serenity, I walked past an auditorium screening Glass.

"No M. Night Shyamalan twist ending for me," I thought. "I’m going to see Serenity, a sexy, noir-inflected thriller in which a femme fatale tries to convince a former flame to kill her abusive husband."

I was thinking of the film’s trailer, which seemed to promise a 21st-century version of Body Heat.

But no. It turns out writer-director Steven Knight has cooked up a twist ending so illogical, so ludicrous, so out-and-out loony it would make M. Night Shyamalan blush.

It’s the kind of silly conclusion that retroactively makes what came before even sillier. It also puts a movie reviewer in a pickle, since it’s a bad film but one can’t say why without risking spoilers. Here are a few spoiler-free reasons to avoid Serenity.

Writer-director Steven Knight has cooked up a twist ending so illogical, so ludicrous, so out-and-out loony it would make M. Night Shyamalan blush.

First, there’s the setup, which trades in oddly stilted and self-conscious clichés. Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a debt-ridden, hard-drinking burnout who runs a fishing boat on a tropical island.

Dill sometimes sleeps with Constance (Diane Lane). (On top of his usual shirtlessness, McConaughey also spends a lot of screen time here taking his pants off or pulling them back on.) He drinks liquor out of a ‘World’s Best Dad’ mug, calling up sad, rum-sozzled memories of a son who is somehow lost to him.

Jason Clarke (centre) is a big meaty caricature of an ugly American as Frank Zariakas. (Graham Bartholomew/Aviron Pictures via AP)</p>

Jason Clarke (centre) is a big meaty caricature of an ugly American as Frank Zariakas. (Graham Bartholomew/Aviron Pictures via AP)

Dill is also fixated on catching a monstrous big fish he’s named Justice. This existential obsession falls somewhere between Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick levels, but in case we miss it, the grizzled bartender tells Dill: "You don’t fish for tuna. You fish for one tuna, and that is a tuna that is only in your head."

This quest gets derailed, sort of, by the arrival of Karen (Anne Hathaway), Dill’s former wife, whose entrance into his favourite bar is framed, unconvincingly, like a bolt of blond fate.

Karen tells Dill that her current husband, Frank Zariakas (Jason Clarke), is violent and dangerous. She offers Dill a cool US$10 million if he’ll take Frank out in the middle of the ocean and feed him to the sharks.

The so-called McConaissance seems to be over, McConaughey’s work heading into a bizarre baroque stage that edges towards self-parody.

The performances are peculiar — not authentic enough to be convincing, but not stylized enough to be fun.

The so-called McConaissance seems to be over, McConaughey’s work heading into a bizarre baroque stage that edges towards self-parody. Hathaway alternates abruptly between sultry heat and icy control, while Clarke is a big, meaty caricature of an ugly American.

Knight drops hints about where he’s ultimately heading, with details that are deliberately off.

There’s a mysterious man (Jeremy Strong) who stands on a tropical beach in a dark suit and dress shoes with a briefcase, fretfully looking at his watch. There’s a morning radio show that seems a bit too attuned to the specifics of Dill’s situation. There’s an unhappy boy somewhere on the American mainland, who seems to have a connection to Dill.

Karen (Anne Hathaway, right), Dill’s former wife, tells Dill that her current husband, Frank Zariakas (Jason Clarke, left), is violent and dangerous. (Graham Bartholomew/Aviron Pictures via AP)</p>

Karen (Anne Hathaway, right), Dill’s former wife, tells Dill that her current husband, Frank Zariakas (Jason Clarke, left), is violent and dangerous. (Graham Bartholomew/Aviron Pictures via AP)

Based in England, Knight is the gifted screenwriter of Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, the writer-director of Locke and the creator of the television series Peaky Blinders. There are Brits who do good British work and then come across the Atlantic and completely lose their perspective.

Serenity is a messy mix of realism and what-the-hell-ism, and it just doesn’t work.

But there’s something more going on here. Knight is hanging a lot on a kooky premise. And while kooky premises sometimes pay off, there needs to be internal consistency. Serenity is a messy mix of realism and what-the-hell-ism, and it just doesn’t work.

Knight’s doozer of an ending does finally explain why everything that’s come before feels so strange and stiff, why the dialogue is so hammy, why the sex scenes are so embarrassing.

There’s a reason why Serenity feels, well, like a bad movie. But by the time we get to the reason, we’ve had to sit through 90 minutes of that bad movie, and those 90 minutes are not redeemed by Knight’s big reveal.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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