Release Date: January 25, 2019 (Wide)
Not to be confused with Joss Whedon’s goofy 2005 big-screen continuation of his short-lived sci-fi TV show "Firefly," “Serenity” is ostensibly a lurid, steamy “Double Indemnity” neo-noir wannabe, until it’s not. As it goes, nothing really is what it seems, and it is daring and admirably deceptive that writer-director Steven Knight (2014’s “Locke”) snaps expectations and does not go through the motions of making a routinely pulpy potboiler. However, a plot reveal that later redefines the purposeful noir premise is simultaneously clever, batshit bonkers, and wildly, almost enthrallingly stupid. “Serenity” ends up being a film that doesn’t work, but it’s too bizarre not to recommend for curiosity's sake and might need to be seen to be believed.
An intensely committed (and frequently unclothed) Matthew McConaughey plays war vet Baker Dill, a chain-smoking, rum-guzzling captain of fishing boat Serenity, hiding out on the idyllic island of Plymouth and determined to catch a big tuna for big cash. His ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), shows up back in his life to offer him a proposition: for $10 million, take her wealthy and abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) out on his boat, get him drunk, and throw his body into the ocean for the sharks to do the rest. If Baker commits the crime, he will be doing it for his estranged son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh). Meanwhile, a bespectacled, briefcase-carrying stranger, Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), who may be a pesky sales representative, keeps just missing Baker when he goes out to sea.
The world writer-director Steven Knight sets up is recognizable enough to seem real, although plenty of mannered, off-kilter touches are woven throughout, like Baker yelling at the sky and calling the prized tuna by the name “Justice,” as well as Karen’s grand entrance, complete with the shimmer of her diamond wedding ring. Save for McConaughey, the performances are intentionally arch, too. A blond Anne Hathaway does breathy and conniving well with the sultry femme fatale role of Karen, and Jason Clarke is suitably despicable and irredeemable as Karen’s dead-husband-to-be Frank. Diane Lane is left adrift as Constance, an islander who pays Baker for his sexual services, spends her days inside staring out the slats of her window, and constantly asks him if he’s seen her cat (and no, that isn’t a euphemism; there is actually a black cat roaming around on the island).
“Serenity” is sleekly made and certainly strikes as a singular vision, even in its existential ideas about coping mechanisms that attempt to step outside the box and reframe the film as something else. To say more would constitute as a spoiler, but the film hinges entirely on a massive endgame that is so ambitiously nutty yet so misguided that it feels more like a mind-melting hallucination than an emotionally cathartic wallop. After just one viewing, reevaluating all of the laid-out pieces that preceded the reveal mostly checks out, but such a process only raises more disturbingly icky, underthought questions in retrospect than it cares to address. Unfortunately, “Serenity” is an unexpected gimmick in search of a better movie. It’s the kind of off-the-rails, big-swing odd duck that will be more entertaining and challenging to talk about than to sit through again.
Grade: C -