Serenity, a neo-noir thriller written and directed by Steven Knight, builds enough intrigue with compelling cinematography and exceptional performances for the first half of the film to create palpable tension, but fails to deliver a satisfying enough conclusion to make up for the convoluted and numerous plot lines.
The film opens with Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), assisted by his First Mate (Djimon Hounsou), taking two tourists out to sea on his boat to go tuna fishing. Dill owns and operates the boat on an ambiguously placed tropical island and takes tourists out to have an “authentic” fishing experience to make money to buy gas for his boat Serenity, the movie’s namesake.
The opening shot quickly turns from relaxing to rabid in a matter of seconds, however, when Dill tries to catch an unreasonably large tuna and pulls a knife on the tourists when they attempt to interrupt him. Dill is unable to catch the tuna, and it remains unexplained as to why he was so desperate for it in the first place, which becomes the film’s first mystery. The second is the introduction of a slender, suit-clad man who continuously attempts to speak to Dill, only to be a few minutes late to every location he arrives at.
Upon returning to shore, the audience is privy to the scene of a small tropical island. Every moment of Dill’s existence reeks of habit and familiarity. Every person he comes across already knows about his attempted attack of the tourists and, even more suspiciously, his failed fifth attempt to hook the large tuna. The monotony of his lifestyle immediately feels too odd for someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck. He fishes during the day, goes to the bar by the docks after work, periodically sleeps with a woman named Constance (Diane Lane) when he needs extra cash, and otherwise lives out of a converted storage unit.
Yet this routine takes a shift when Karen (Anne Hathaway) walks into his local bar wearing an immaculate white silk outfit and slides a $100 to the bartender for her ice water. Hathaway is impeccable in the role, contrasting McConaughey’s enigmatic hermitude with her candidreseduction. As it turns out, Karen is Dill’s ex-wife who has arrived to proposition Dill to solve his financial woes.
Through their conversation the audience learns Dill was a soldier in Iran and, while deployed, Karen fell for another man (Jason Clarke). Karen’s new husband becomes abusive to not only her, but also Dill and Karen’s son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh). Karen fears for her life and, after an attempt to leave him, is blocked by her husband’s powerful connections. She proposes Dill take her husband out on the boat and throw him to the sharks for $10 million in cash. Dill initially rejects the offer and refuses to take him out on the boat, but Karen ignores his contempt. While one would assume this offer (and the movie) would allow Dill to take a philosophical look at morality, it quickly goes down a much more odd and complex route.
Dill becomes progressively more erratic and desperate to catch the fish, as well as suspicious of his surroundings. Karen reminds Dill of their son and how he’s affected by the abuse. She makes an odd comment about their connection, specifically saying how Patrick can hear Dill when he speaks.
With the return and reveal of the suit-clad man’s purpose in finding Dill, the film descends into chaos and questions of a Plymouth’s inhabitants and of the island itself. It becomes increasingly unclear as to what is real and what is a figment of Dill’s imagination. The plot is busy, with too many elements to look away for even a second—this makes for an exciting entire first half that keeps up the mystery into a good portion of the second half. The ending, although surprising, provides both a surface level explanation of Dill’s actions but also reveals too many holes to serve as a satisfying conclusion. Overall, the acting, especially on McConaughey’s part, is well done and the general plot is exciting enough to hold the audience’s attention for the first half of the production. The conclusion, on the other hand, is neither unique nor well-executed enough to actually have an impact on viewers.
Featured image by Global Road Entertainment