Review: McConaughey and Hathaway's 'Serenity' has a batshit twist

Graham Bartholomew

Graham Bartholomew

On the surface, Serenity appears to be a typical neo-noir… plus tuna. And yet somehow it’s so much weirder than that sentence would lead you to believe.

Matthew McConaughey plays boat captain Baker Dill, a man obsessed with a monster trophy fish he’s named Justice. After failing to catch his Moby Dick for the fourth time, Dill wanders his little island, drinking and carousing until a woman (Anne Hathaway) from his past shows up. She offers him $10 million to take her abusive husband (Jason Clarke) out fishing and throw him overboard. The proposition puts a strain on Dill’s already tenuous hold on reality, and the arrival of a besuited stranger named Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) throws him completely off the deep end.

Serenity is billed as a “sexy, stylized thriller,” but is in actuality the kind of movie your stoner college roommate would come up with after ripping a bong way too hard. Strange twists are as fundamental to the film noir genre as they are to burnout philosophizing, so while it’s usually a spoiler in and of itself to note a surprise turn, it should not come as a shock. And it’s crucial to note it here, because the reveal—which occurs so early in the movie that it’s less a twist and more Serenity’s central plot point—is such a bonkers curveball that, in addition to throwing us for a loop, completely derails what was already a fairly absurd movie.

Imagine going to a restaurant, ordering a cheeseburger, and then being forced to eat an eel the waiter brought you instead. That’s what it’s like seeing Serenity. The bizarre flip cannot be overstated. It’s a truly baffling move from writer-director Steven Knight, whose work on Peaky Blinders and Eastern Promises is proof enough of some immense talent. So why did he go in this direction? How did this movie get made?

Knight may have felt like flexing his writing muscles a bit, mashing some ideas together on the page to see what would happen—but to actually produce this thing? Serenity feels like some expensive joke, a feeling bolstered by Hathaway’s wavering femme fatale delivery, Strong’s over-the-top nerdery, and an overt McConaughey-ness culminating with our hero yelling at the clouds. At times, it feels like you’re supposed to laugh, and honestly, if you were to go into this movie and give it the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, you might have a phenomenal time.

Serenity is so out of left field you almost have to respect it. The marketing materials call it “daringly original,” and you know what? It’s hard to argue with that. In a sea of sequels and adaptations, Knight has produced something truly unique and memorable, even if for all the wrong reasons. While novelty can be appreciated for its own sake, Serenity serves as a nice reminder that originality
doesn’t always mean quality.

Director: Steven Knight
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jason Clarke, Jeremy Strong
Rated: R
Theater: Now playing, area theaters