Film Review: Serenity (2019)

Escaping your past is never easy, especially in the movies. Fleeing to a remote island where you can adopt a new identity might seem like the perfect solution, but, with time, all will unravel and whatever peaceful new existence has been created will be harshly and likely permanently shattered. Movies set on islands very often involve mysterious events that seem more apt to happen far from civilization and away from the prying eyes of law enforcement (The Island and Paradise Hills, which played at Sundance, are only two examples), with the almost universal trajectory revealing that all is not what it seems to be.

In Serenity, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fisherman on Plymouth Island who is obsessed with catching a big tuna that others don’t believe actually swims in the water. His daily tourist trips are interrupted when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives and tells him that her abusive mob-connected husband (Jason Clarke) is coming to the island. Using Dill’s connection to their son who he hasn’t seen for years, Karen urges him to take her husband out on a trip from which he won’t return, prompting him to weigh the ethics of one crime over another and facing unexpected influence from both people and forces on the island, which seems to have a mind of itself.

This film comes from writer-director Steven Knight, whose previous film Locke was a highly engrossing drama with just one main character seen on screen for most of its runtime, and who was nominated for an Oscar in 2003 for his screenplay for the intriguing thriller Dirty Pretty Things. This script and concept, unfortunately, don’t hold a candle to either of those or his recent screenplays, instead presenting an idea that might have seemed cool on paper but fails completely on screen. The twists that come to explain why events are playing out as they are end up being far from believable or coherent, sinking a film that is already flailing. This mystery isn’t worth following down the rabbit hole, as what’s waiting to be discovered is both overly simplistic and almost laughable. Six seasons on the island featured in Lost included their fair share of questionable revelations and demanded frequent suspension of disbelief, but nearly all of it was more credible than what’s at play here.

one story that doesn’t seem like it was worth telling

The reunion of two Oscar winners who previously partnered productively in the space epic Interstellar might seem appealing, but these are easily two of the worst performances delivered recently by both McConaughey, who returns to the lazy, unexcitable persona he frequently displayed before his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club, and Hathaway, whose poor accent is far from the worst thing about her overeager performance. This film’s biggest issues may be with the direction of its plot, but there’s little to admire before that point. This is one story that doesn’t seem like it was worth telling. Check out McConaughey in the underrated 2013 drama Mud instead – that’s an island trip much more worth making.


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