'Serenity': Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in a Boldly Preposterous Noir

By Kurt Loder

January 25, 2019 4 min read

In "Serenity," we see that director Steven Knight has fully internalized the first rule of stark mad filmmaking: Shoot for the stars. No matter how implausible or plainly ridiculous your story may be — and since you wrote it, you'll be the judge of that — lean into it. Don't hold back. Go for the very best kind of very bad movie. You can do it. Steve did.

"Serenity" is actually two different movies — two different movie genres, in fact — oddly pressed together, like a grilled roach and cheese sandwich. On the surface we have a sultry tropical noir along the lines of, oh, "Body Heat," or some other '80s artifact. Matthew McConaughey is Baker Dill (not his real name, it turns out — as if it could be anybody's real name). Baker operates a charter fishing boat called Serenity on remote Plymouth Island, a balmy locale so far from anywhere that it has just one bar, one cop and one available lady (Diane Lane) for Baker to bonk.

Then one night, who should come walking into the one bar but Baker's ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway, making her entrance in a starburst of screaming femme-fatality). Back in the day, when Baker was over in Iraq collecting medals and racking up PTSD points, faithless Karen took up with an abusive brute named Frank (Jason Clarke). She dumped Baker but kept their son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), when she married this creep; now she's back, admitting her mistake, and wondering if Baker would be interested in sailing Frank out to sea and leaving him there to bond with the sharks. There's $10 million in it for him, if he's interested.

Here it must be mentioned that Baker is not a shark guy; he's a tuna guy. One tuna in particular — a big white tuna to which Baker has given the name Justice (yes, I'm afraid that's really what he has named it), and which he has continually failed to catch. That clonking you hear is indeed the sound of Hemingway headbutting Herman Melville, although, as is often the case in very bad movies, it ultimately doesn't end up meaning much.

Very soon we notice that there's a weird little guy in a black business suit chasing Baker around, claiming to have an important offer to make. Also that everybody in town seems to know whatever is going on in Baker's life. ("I heard she needs to be saved," somebody says of Karen. Says another: "How much she offer you to kill her husband?") We've also had no choice but to notice that Baker likes to walk around in rain-drenched T-shirts — or better yet, no T-shirt. (Or, best of all, completely butt-naked.) Wither the McConaissance?

At some point about halfway through the movie, clouds of narrative ambiguity begin to gather, and another story starts taking shape within them. Baker appears to have some mental connection with his absent son, whom we intermittently see in his faraway bedroom poring over a computer screen. Then a black cat pads onto the scene. A quote from "The Maltese Falcon" is uttered. A dark frigatebird hovers high in the sky above Baker's fishing boat. There's talk of a "Doctor Bob."

By now you may be wondering what this movie is really all about. And also, when does it hit Netflix.

Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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