When you watch the trailer for Serenity, it looks like it’s going to be a fairly standard, possibly even pretty good, thriller with a couple of hand-over-mouth gasp moments. The cast is made up of Academy Award winners and nominees, and the director is a well-established screenwriter with a few directorial credits already under his belt. What could go wrong?
Serenity begins as we are introduced to Baker Dill, anti-hero and former army veteran who takes two tourists deep sea fishing out on his boat. When one of the tourists' fishing lines snags something, Dill decides to take it from him at knifepoint because he thinks it is Justice, the trophy tuna fish that has gotten away from him multiple times. Upset at being threatened by Dill and not getting the experience they paid for, the two male tourists decide not to pay Dill and his first mate, Duke, the $700 for the trip.
The film progresses onto the mainland, an island known as Plymouth, a quiet little place with only one cop and one bar, where everyone knows everything about you. When Dill doesn’t have the money to pay his crew, he makes his way to Constance, a beautiful, somewhat wealthy woman, and acts as her gigolo. After being paid for his services, Dill pays his first mate Duke for his daily task and makes his way to the island’s bar.
Enter Karen, the film’s femme fatale and Baker Dill’s ex-wife. She’s tracked him down after not seeing him since she left him for her wealthy husband, Frank. Karen reveals to Baker that “he was right,” and that she needs his help to save herself and their son, Patrick, from the abusive Frank. Since he doesn’t know what Dill looks like, her plan is to have Dill take her husband out to the ocean and kill him. Baker seems to have no interest in anything other than just taking him out fishing, though.
This is about as much of the plot as I can divulge without giving away spoilers. The most I’ll say is that like in most thrillers, there is a twist. You’ll get nothing else from me. But I will talk about the twist in as general of terms as I can and try to explain why there seems to be such a general distaste for this movie.
Once the high-concept twist is revealed, the narrative of the film, and the overall feel of it, is altered for the viewer. When filmmakers do this in these types of movies, they usually cut back to earlier scenes to show us what we missed. But a lot of the time they take the original scene and just extend it to show that character’s real motives. This trope angers me, because how was I supposed to know a plot detail or character motivation if you hadn’t extended that scene?
Throughout Serenity, writer and director Steven Knight actually does give multiple hints that something isn’t quite right with the island of Plymouth. There seems to be a Truman Show type of vibe to the island and its inhabitants, adding to the hysteria of Baker’s interrupted life. These hints weren’t hidden through extended flashbacks or revealed by another character’s monologue. He strategically weaves them into the film’s narrative and allows you to pick up on what might be the true meaning behind the movie. For that reason, I am one of the few people who saw this movie and actually enjoyed it.
I like that Knight created a film that takes a chance on being just a little bit different than other neo-noir films. If he didn’t have the spectacular talents of Matthew McConaughey to play Baker Dill or Anne Hathaway’s ability to change her character’s personality on a dime, then I definitely would have been in the majority opinion that this film is actually terrible. Instead, I think it is drastically underrated and currently just a target for people finding something to hate. But I do think that only time will tell how well this movie holds up. In five years, I may rewatch it and say to myself, “Jared, what the f*ck were you thinking?”
How to View: The thriller genre is one of my favorites, and Serenity gives us something that is slightly on the crazy side of things. I recommend that you go see it and tell me what you thought of this film.