Serenity is either incredibly brilliant or monumentally terrible. I'm not sure which. It would probably take two or three viewings to know for certain. Maybe ten viewings. This movie has a bold premise, so it probably deserves credit for taking a big risk. At the same time, that risk is so bizarre that you can't initially tell whether or not it works.
Matthew McConaughey plays fishing boat captain Baker Dill. His days are spent taking paying customers tuna fishing and, when back on land, getting paid to have sex with a local woman (Diane Lane). One day, he receives an out-of-the-blue visit from his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway). She wants him to kill her abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) by taking him way out into the ocean and throwing him overboard to the sharks. In return, Karen promises a $10 million payday. Baker is reluctant until he learns that Frank's behavior is seriously impacting his son, who he never gets to see.
That's what Serenity is about on the surface. From the beginning, though, it's obvious that things are not entirely as they seem. A surreal vibe permeates the movie. The performances are weirdly broad; Baker, in particular, is perpetually angry for no obvious reason. There's a strange bespectacled man who trails Baker, improbably missing him by seconds every time he shows up. Dialogue has an odd, stilted feel. Even some of the camera movements suggest that something is afoot.
At the 65-minute mark, Serenity finally reveals its twist, although especially observant viewers may come close to figuring it out beforehand. I won't lie -- it's daffy. What begins as a thriller abruptly becomes something slightly different, something much harder to categorize.
Writer/director Steven Knight (Locke) uses the twist to dig into themes of revenge, loss, obsession, and domestic violence. On one hand, shifting the story in this direction is gutsy, and you kind of have to admire that. Serenity is not afraid to gamble. On the other hand -- and this is on first impression -- the turn more or less takes away your ability to care about the characters because you can no longer see them in the same light. Many unanswered questions remain as you exit the theater, which is another frustration. Then again, you will be thinking about it afterward.
Is Serenity so bad it's good? Maybe. Is it actually one of those pictures that's secretly a masterpiece that reveals new layers with each re-watch? Possibly. Is it pure garbage? That could be, too. Regardless, the film is confounding in a hypnotic way. In spots, I found myself simultaneously annoyed and riveted, bored yet eager to see what would come next, and unsure whether to laugh or gasp.
Whatever it ultimately is, Serenity proves so off-the-rails bonkers that you have to see it to believe it.
out of 4
Serenity is rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.