My first thought after seeing “Serenity” was:
Can’t wait to see it again.
I’m keen to return to the beginning and see how the fascinating, Rubik’s Cube of a plot was assembled; were certain clues and hints dropped along the way?
Writer-director Steven Knight’s “Serenity” is a 21st century neo-noir mystery with echoes of 1980s thrillers such as “Jagged Edge,” “Body Heat,” “Eyewitness,” “Dead Calm” and “Fatal Attraction.” (Even the main poster for “Serenity” is reminiscent of the posters for “Jagged Edge” and “Fatal Attraction.”)
A perfectly cast Matthew McConaughey spends much of the movie shirtless and soaking wet playing one Baker Dill, a fishing boat captain scraping out a living on Plymouth Island, a remote slice of tropical paradise in the middle of nowhere.
Baker has an Ahab-level obsession with reeling in a legendary, some say mythical tuna he has named “Justice.” The 600-pound sharks and the lucrative swordfish Baker catches are child’s play compared to the mighty tuna, who has muscled free from Baker’s line three times now.
Wait. Make that four.
Plymouth Island is tiny, with only one bar and only one cop, and a small group of locals who know everybody else’s businesses. Every time Baker walks into the bar or the local bait shop, he’s hit with an earful of (frighteningly accurate) gossip about what he’s been up to and what he’s got going on. Even the local morning radio guy seems to be speaking almost directly to Baker.
Writer-director Knight does a beautiful job of letting us get to know Baker, a decorated war veteran who is haunted by dreams (or are they visions?) of his young son Patrick, whom he hasn’t seen in years, and various locals including the lovely Constance (Diane Lane), who knows Baker will most likely come calling when he’s tapped out, and doesn’t mind handing him a wad of post-coital cash, and Baker’s first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou), a man of deep faith who takes it seriously when Baker tells him to please help him resist temptation.
Desperate for cash and feeling increasingly lost and without purpose, Baker is drowning his issues one night when a blonde dressed as if she’s seen “Casablanca” one too many times sashays in.
This is Karen (Anne Hathaway), Baker’s ex-wife, who left Baker 10 years ago and is remarried to a connected guy with a mean temper.
You were right, I was wrong, Karen tells Baker.
Karen says her husband regularly abuses her. She says Patrick spends nearly every hour locked away in his room, fixated on his computer, trying to drown out the sounds of the monster down the hall.
Karen knows Baker is broke and lost. She knows he still has a special connection with their son.
Karen has a plan. She has arranged a fishing excursion for her husband, who will be arriving shortly. (Baker fell off the grid and changed his name years ago, so it’s not as if Karen’s husband will know this guy was once married to his wife.)
If Baker kills the husband, he will have saved Karen and his son. And she’ll pay him $10 million.
I know you have a special connection to our son, says Karen. She’s not wrong. There are times when it appears as if Baker and Patrick have some kind of telepathic link.
Oh, and by the way, as if things couldn’t get more complicated, there’s a little, bespectacled guy in a suit who is clutching a briefcase as if his life depended on it and is forever chasing after Baker, who for a long time stays a step ahead of this weird and intense little dude. What’s that all about? How in the world does this guy connect to the story?
McConaughey’s performance becomes more impressive with each scene, as Baker agonizes over the proposition, and begins to question not only his place in the world, but his memories — especially after the war in Iraq effed him up, as he puts it.
At first it appears as if Hathaway is overdoing it with the femme fatale routine, but when she’s required to switch gears she does so seamlessly, leaving us wondering just what Karen is really up to and where her loyalties truly lie.
Karen’s husband Frank (the always solid Jason Clarke) shows up on Plymouth Island looking like he’s dressed for a Movie Mobster Con — expensive loafers, flashy clothes, gleaming jewelry — and is so grotesquely evil, we’d certainly root for any shark that might happen upon Frank should he “fall” into the water.
But even if it’s justified, murder is murder, as Duke reminds Baker, and there’s a heaven and a hell, and what we do in this life will have consequences in the next life.
The spiritual angle in “Serenity” is just one of the many elements making this one of the most ambitious, one of the most challenging — and one of the most entertaining thrillers in recent years.
Aviron presents a film written and directed by Steven Knight. Rated R (for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images). Running time: 106 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.