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Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 12:04 am

Serenity goes its own way


I often complain that movie trailers give far too much away about the films they’re promoting, revealing key twists and surprises that not only undercut the work of the director in question but ruin the film-going experience for the audience. Apparently, research shows that for the most part, viewers like this approach; still, I bet I’m not the only one who shows up 20 minutes late to miss the plethora of previews that anchor each theatrical release.

My complaints don’t hold any water where the trailer for Steven Knight’s new thriller Serenity is concerned. It does a masterful job of hiding what the film is all about, so much so that it will likely work against it where word-of-mouth and box office results are concerned.  Akin to a bait-and-switch, the preview promises a modern film noir, replete with a sexy femme fatale, a good-looking dope eager to be led to his doom and a scheme that will do just that.  For a while, that’s just what Knight delivers but then there’s a twist to end all twists that viewers will either see as inspired or one of the dumbest, most manipulative narrative turns in film history.

On the surface, the plot is simplicity itself.  Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) owns a charter boat on Plymouth Island.  Perpetually broke, out of the blue he’s paid a visit by his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway).  Remarried to an abusive millionaire (Jason Clarke), she offers Dill $10 million to take her husband out on a fishing trip, stage an accident and feed him to the sharks. While he’s tempted by the opportunity, he’s far more concerned about the well-being of their son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), who lives with his mother and her psychopath of a husband.

It comes as no surprise that Dill falls victim to Karen’s charms and that he goes down the wrong path, though every fiber of his being is screaming at him not to. However, it soon becomes apparent that what he does and doesn’t do is immaterial once Knight shows his hand and reveals a plot twist for the ages. Once the cat’s out of the bag, you realize there have been a few clues pointing towards something being amiss but nothing to the magnitude of what occurs.  The motivation of every character is called into question, as are their actions, with each and every element of the story suddenly taking on a different color, and we’re not sure where we’re going or where we’ve been.

Serenity is not a badly made film; the performances are all solid, Knight does a good job of creating the requisite amount of tension and the pacing is spot on. This, as well as the presence of the ever-reliable Diane Lane in a supporting role, may be enough for some viewers to get over the hump where the big reveal is concerned. Perhaps its biggest problem is that once the rules of the film shift, Knight doesn’t delve into it far enough, leaving far too many questions and loose ends that will likely leave viewers more frustrated than entertained.

As for the movie’s reception and reputation, it will surely take its lumps during its initial release but I have a feeling it will eventually finds its audience.  Serenity has all the signs of becoming a cult classic, a movie that will be discussed, analyzed and appreciated for the out-and-out weird exercise that it is.   

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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