Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong
Watch Serenity online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV
Read our interview with director Steven Knight here
Written and directed by Steven Knight (Locke, TV’s Peaky Blinders), this cheerfully ridiculous thriller is undeniably entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s also extremely difficult to review, for reasons which will become obvious.
Set on a sun-drenched paradise called Plymouth Island, the film stars Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill, an Iraq vet-turned-fisherman who’s become obsessed with landing a giant tuna he calls “Justice”. Struggling to make ends meet, he occasionally allows lonely island local Constance (a woefully underused Diane Lane) to pay him for sex, so he can keep employing loyal first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou). Then his sultry ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), turns up with a tempting offer – if he takes her violent husband, Frank (Jason Clarke), out on a fishing trip and pushes him overboard, she’ll pay him 10 million dollars.
As that plot summary suggests, the film is at its most enjoyable when coming across like a high camp tribute to classic ’90s erotic thrillers such as Basic Instinct or Wild Things. Hathaway, for her part, vamps it up like there’s no tomorrow, while McConaughey proves that he’s still happy to take a sweaty, shirtless beefcake role once in a while, McConnaissance or no McConnaissance.
However, it soon becomes clear that something else is going on under the surface. Indeed, the script is so pleased with a particular twist that it can’t wait to reveal it, laying out everything you need to know while there are still 40 minutes left to go. Unfortunately, that ends up sucking all the air out of the film, in part because it’s so laughably ridiculous, but also because it completely removes the stakes, leaving you unsure exactly what or who you’re supposed to care about in the story.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a gigantic revelation, but the gimmick here makes certain plot elements – most notably, McConaughey’s naked cliff-jumping or his relationship with Diane Lane’s character – even more laughable than they were in the first place. It also leaves several other things completely unexplained, such as Constance’s son Samson (Garion Dowds), who pops up twice but serves no apparent purpose.
Early on, the film introduces some nonsense about Baker being able to psychically communicate with his estranged son that even M. Night Shyamalan would reject. The snorts of derision start there and get even louder with the appearance of Succession’s Jeremy Strong. After a while, even McConaughey seems to give up on the whole thing and he starts howling into the air with frustration. By that point, you’ll know how he feels.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Serenity, but only in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. As for why McConaughey and Hathaway got involved, one can only assume that they fancied a couple of weeks shooting in Mauritius.
Serenity is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.