After the huge success of Peaky Blinders and establishing himself as a serious writer/director with 2013’s Locke, one could forgive Steven Knight for going out on a limb to detach his latest project from his usual style and themes. However, with his latest outing as a writer/director: Serenity, it seems he may have bitten off far more than he can chew.
With an opening sequence that feels like something out of an early-noughties action thriller (not in a good way), Serenity immediately establishes Matthew McConaughey’s fishing boat captain Baker Dill, and his battle of wits against a large tuna that seems to keep evading capture. When Dill’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up on the idyllic, isolated island Dill calls home, her proposal to her former husband and father of her child is simple: kill her violent, drunk current husband Frank (Jason Clarke), and receive 10 million dollars. Whilst this all sounds like a relatively normal plot for a thriller, it’s safe to say that Serenity couldn’t be further from it.
This film, probably like the majority of its audience after watching it, is just wholly confused. The plot, though simplistic on the outside, contains a number of twists and turns throughout, with the only problem being that they’re made so blindingly obvious by Knight’s seemingly deliberate exposition of them that it would’ve been less of a cop-out to end it all with “and he woke up and it was all a dream”. Knight tries desperately to hit on some interesting themes and explore some contentious issues, but their execution is so poorly handled that it turns out almost laughable, losing any tension in the process.
The cinematography and editing choices are just bizarre, with scenes where for some unknown reason characters are shown from 3 different angles in the space of about 5 seconds, again touching on this strange, early-noughties vibe the whole film seems to proudly carry. Weirdly, Knight seems to inadvertently rip-off Christopher Nolan by having McConaughey drive a truck through some randomly-placed cornfields, a little nod to his outing in Interstellar, funny considering that Serenity feels like a poor, fan-made, spiritual sequel to the Nolan blockbuster. Very few times does Benjamin Wallfisch’s score actually work, where throughout most of the film, this omnipresent music is tonally-speaking, chaotic, rarely reflecting what’s happening on-screen.
Whilst Hathaway provides some solid support when given some extended screen-time, it’s on McConaughey’s shoulders that the film is carried. He tries his hardest to help the audience buy into the character of Baker Dill, but with such a poorly-written script, surprising given the fantastic dialogue present in Locke, it’s a wonder how any actor can take a role seriously when being given the lines McConaughey has to deliver. In the end, his performance is probably the best bit about Serenity, battling through some awful dialogue, naked swims in the ocean and a constant tussle with a big tuna to give an at least (mostly) dignified, emotional display that takes nothing away from his obvious talents as an actor.
Now, Serenity might be one of, if not the most baffling film to be released this year, with so many puzzling stylistic choices, a low-quality screenplay and a glaringly obvious twist, but it’s actually quite enjoyable. Not to say that it’s a good film, exceedingly far from it, but it can take shelter in the fact that it’s actually quite fun to watch, even if it’s just to laugh at how cringe-inducingly bad it may be. I’d recommend it anyone that just needs to watch something silly to take the edge off but nothing more, a really disappointing film for someone with obvious talents like Knight.
Words by Elliott Jones