Serenity, the sophomore directorial effort from screenwriter Steven Knight, is, by all accounts of publicity and talent, a twisted, elegantly trashy neo-noir. Trailers lead you to believe that Matthew McConaughey is being cajoled into a Body Heat-esque plot by lost lover Anne Hathaway to off her rich, abusive husband (Jason Clarke).
I have seen Serenity. I can tell you that this is not accurate. Rather, this is perhaps the most incoherent bait and switch committed by a marketing campaign in ages. I am sure that I am forgetting quite a few films that failed to properly state the case of said film, but none more spectacularly than Serenity.
Don’t believe the trailers!
It’s not the fact that this ostensible throwback to erotic thrillers of the 90’s turned out to be a dark, incoherent, and fatally self-serious attempt to cash in on Christopher Nolan’s big-budget, pop-psych blockbusters. As it turns out, tortured fisherman John, played by Matthew McConaughey in all his Rust Cohle, Lincoln-driving, chugging liquor out of a mug with a positive message on it glory, is not trying to murder Frank (Clarke). He’s… oh god, I need a second.
What I’m about to tell you is the twist of this film. It is pertinent that you know these spoilers, as they are crucial to whatever enjoyment you receive from this film. This is a warning, but I recommend you go on with what I’m about to say.
As it turns out, John, drifting into days and nights with scorned former love Karen (Hathaway), her douchebag husband Frank, John’s friend-with-benefits Constance (Diane Lane, wasted in a tedious, weightless, and unnecessary role), and his perpetually angered sidekick Duke (Djimon Hounsou, hoping that Marvel will call him any day now to star in Captain Marvel)… is a character in an open-world video game set on Florida’s not very real Plymouth Island. Who created John? That would be Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), John’s autistic, coding-prodigy son, who has created the game to plot the murder of his abusive stepfather, Frank, and who also broods about the death of his Iraq veteran father… John.
Yes, my friends, this film has more to do with Tron than Body Heat. McConaughey drinks his days through, trying to catch a big yellowtail tuna, and then all of a sudden, he’s doubting reality like a freshman philosophy major who skipped Twin Peaks and went right for the recent sequel series… and, by the way, for whatever reason, there’s a slender pipsqueak salesman that really wants to discuss something with him.
What is it? Divorce papers? Is he a hitman? Why is character actor Jeremy Strong, whose hairstyle and suit appear to imply that he’s attempting to audition to play Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in whatever the first movie made about the Drumpf presidency that gets made is, going after him? He wants to give John an electronic fish tracker.
Making sense of what I saw.
I saw this sober. I’m not making this up. If you switched McConaughey out with someone less glib—say, Nicolas Cage—this would be a classic, polarizing mindfuck. Instead, Knight, a very talented writer and filmmaker in his own right with credits like Eastern Promises and Locke, has no idea how ridiculous his concept is, nor does he even bother having a sense of humor about it.
If you’re reasonable, do yourself a favor and Serenity never. If you want to see what the definition of a botched twist is, Serenity in two months or less, when you can rent it.