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Review: ‘Serenity’ is a Noir Thriller that Defies Logic

January 24, 2019Ferdosa Abdi

Every now and then one will watch a movie that is so bizarre that it will be difficult to determine if it belongs in the "so bad, it's good" category of filmmaking. In the case of Serenity, this could very well be a movie that one looks back on and understands the genius of it — or perhaps it is one that will bewilder audiences during its theatrical run, then fade from memory once the year is over.

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in what can best be described as an off-kilter film noir/neo-noir that swaps out the usual dreary city bathed in neon lights for a sweltering tropical island. Writer/director Steven Knight's latest follows McConaughey's Baker Dill, a fishing boat captain, as he desperately seeks a large tuna that has evaded him for years. We are shown that this hunt has alienated him from his friends and family, but one day, a beautiful femme fatale (Hathaway) walks into the only dingy bar on the island and makes a beeline for Baker. She has a proposition: kill her husband and free her from her torment. The catch? Our bottle blonde is Baker's ex-wife, Karen, who abandoned him for a mobster named Frank (Jason Clarke) while Baker served in Iraq.

These three actors are pros and are fully committed to this warped noir tale, and, as such, they do the best with what they are given. At times, however, it is as though the three are competing in the scenery-chewing Olympics. It is difficult to point to any single, significant performance, as they are all rather overwhelming. That said, McConaughey as our lead does do a fairly good job, all things considered.

On the surface, Serenity plays like your typical film noir, but it's one made sexy and delirious in the humid environment. Instead of our morally complex lead being bathed by the moonlight in shadowy alleyways in a city that might pass for New York, L.A., or Las Vegas, Baker is roasting in the sun on his boat in the middle of the ocean. One may even argue the setting is some roundabout way of explaining away McConaughey's persistent tan. However, that may be giving the filmmakers too much credit.

Serenity seems to be playing by the rules at the beginning — that is, until everything radically changes, and we realize that Knight is playing by his own rules and bending the noir genre in ways we haven't quite seen before. Truly, this is an attempt at something bold and certainly memorable, with twists and turns that never cease to amaze. Whether everything works is the question one has to ask. However, Serenity is such a baffling experience that at the very least it's unlikely to be forgotten.

Serenity releases January 25th, 2019 from Elevation Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images. Its runtime is 1 hr. 46 min.

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