Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou
RunTime: 1 hr 46 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes and Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 21 February 2019
Synopsis: From the creative mind of Oscar nominee Steven Knight comes a daringly original, sexy, stylized thriller. Baker Dill (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain leading tours off a tranquil, tropical enclave called Plymouth Island. His quiet life is shattered, however, when his ex-wife Karen (Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway) tracks him down with a desperate plea for help. She begs Dill to save her – and their young son – from her new, violent husband (Jason Clarke) by taking him out to sea on a fishing excursion, only to throw him to the sharks and leave him for dead. Karen’s appearance thrusts Dill back into a life he’d tried to forget, and as he struggles between right and wrong, his world is plunged into a new reality that may not be all that it seems.
Until the next box-office embarrassment, ‘Serenity’ will hold the ignominy of being the worst opening at the U.S. box office for both its lead stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. The next obvious question you’re probably thinking is if it really is that bad, considering how it is written and directed by Steven Knight of ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, ‘Eastern Promises’ and the one-man Tom Hardy showcase ‘Locke’. The short answer to that question is no, although we suspect that there will be those who will like it for what it tries to be and those who dislike it for precisely the same reason(s).
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that it all hinges on how much you buy that third-act twist which is audacious and, we dare say, defies expectation. Oh yes, up till that point, you would have been led to think that the whole conceit revolves around whether the salty Iraq veteran-turned-fishing boat skipper Baker Dill (McConaughey) would go along with his ex-wife Karen’s (Hathaway) nefarious plan to kill her millionaire husband Frank (Jason Clarke). Karen tells Baker that Frank has been physically abusing her, and suggests that the plan to bring Frank out on a fishing trip and feed him to the sharks was conceived by their son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh).
But circumstances are not quite as they seem, and we mean that in an existential way. There are hints of this from the get-go, including how Baker has a single-minded obsession with catching a very large tuna that he’s dubbed Justice, how Baker is pursued by a suited and bespectacled salesman (Jeremy Strong) who keeps missing him, and how Baker’s first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) starts talking cryptically about the almighty rules of the game when he hears wind of what Karen has asked Baker to do for her. Why, oh why, too do things feel so routine on the island named Plymouth where apparently ‘everyone knows everything’? And for that matter, what kind of island is Plymouth anyways?
It’s exactly what Knight wants, having you puzzle over each one of these head-scratchers. Yet like we said, much depends on whether you’ll buy the high-concept premise on which the entire narrative is built on. Either way though, it does explain the artifice and incongruity that you’re probably feeling bemused about, especially with Knight not bothering to nuance the symbolism with terms such as ‘existence’ and ‘a higher power’. We’ll say this too – those who do embrace it for what it tries to do will very likely lap its mawkish ending, which goes right to the heart of a father-son relationship that transcends both time and space.
To say anything more about ‘Serenity’ would have us ruining the surprise for those who plan to catch it, so we’ll simply leave you with the advice to go in with an open mind and not try to second-guess it. We guarantee that, whether you eventually like it or not, it is hardly the worst movie of both McConaughey and Hathaway’s careers. A the very least, both actors are as magnetic and appealing as you’d expect them to be, and they do their utmost to carry the movie as best as they can. It is daring of them all right to get behind a film they must have known would be polarising, so count that as one more reason to step into this movie with peace of mind.
(You'll either love it or dislike it, but you'll only know when the movie reveals its hand in the third act)
Review by Gabriel Chong