Matthew McConaughey always seems to jump at the opportunity to play weirdos who frequent sand and surf, but in the case of Serenity, moviegoers likely won’t share his enthusiasm.
Despite some nice tropical scenery, this uneven thriller about betrayal, revenge, PTSD, and deep-sea fishing struggles to stay afloat.
McConaughey conveys his usual mix of sleaze and charm as Baker Dill, an Iraq War veteran trying to start over as a fledgling fishing-boat captain in a remote island community. Living under an assumed name, he keeps a small group of friends who tolerate his eccentricities, including his first mate (Djimon Hounsou) and a single mother (Diane Lane).
As he battles tuna and marlin on the water, Dill remains haunted by his past filled with despair and regret. Those details are gradually revealed, especially when his ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), suddenly shows up and requests his help. “I want to know what you’re doing out here on the edge of nowhere,” Dill logically asks.
It turns out Karen left Dill while he was deployed overseas, and now her relationship to a rich hothead (Jason Clarke) has turned abusive, which in turn threatens Dill’s computer-addicted young son (Rafael Sayegh). Yet as his behavior grows more erratic, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur.
The screenplay by director Steven Knight (Locke) is neither as sexy nor suspenseful as it aspires to be, taking its goofy premise too seriously as it unleashes plot twists that grow more lurid and preposterous.
There are some surface pleasures, of course, that come with watching beautiful people frolic on the sun-drenched beach. And to its credit, the film captures the day-to-day details of maritime life, from fishing techniques and terminology to unspoken trust between the locals.
However, any deeper emotional connection is as elusive as that monster catch that Dill hopes can provide some much-needed financial security. The film can’t find a consistent tone as it juggles elements of film noir, domestic drama, and character-driven redemption saga.
Whether you watch Serenity on land or at sea, it’s difficult to be reeled in by a story that doesn’t hook you in the first place.