A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Serenity is a mature thriller/film noir starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Domestic abuse is suggested: A man is shown taking off his belt next to his naked wife; later, welts are seen on her back. A boy pulls a knife, a character is killed, and lots of blood is shown when a character's hand is broken. Murder is discussed, and there's a disturbing mention of "little girls" working as prostitutes. Characters' naked bottoms are seen (both male and female), and the main character has sex with two women on three occasions, with thrusting, groaning, and some kissing. Language is also very strong, with frequent uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Characters drink frequently, sometimes to the point of extreme drunkenness. The main character smokes cigarettes. The film goes in an unexpected direction, and while it works for a while, by the halfway point, it comes pretty badly unraveled.
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What's the story?
In SERENITY, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) lives on a remote island and runs a fishing boat, renting fishing trips to tourists along with his first mate, Duke (Djimon Hounsou). Baker sometimes sleeps with the lonely Constance (Diane Lane) and sometimes stops for a glass of rum, but mostly he thinks about catching a large, elusive tuna called "Justice." Then the beautiful Karen (Anne Hathaway) appears. Karen and Baker had a past together, and a son, but now she's married to the abusive, drunken Frank (Jason Clarke). Frank is coming for a fishing trip, and Karen asks Baker to take him out, get him drunk, and throw him overboard to be eaten by sharks. For this, she'll pay Baker $10 million. Baker must decide what to do, but things get more complicated when an unusual fishing gear salesman (Jeremy Strong) shows up with some unexpected information.
Is it any good?
Starting out with promise, like a glossy, heated, modern-day film noir tribute, this thriller eventually begins to reveal its twist, and everything that was working until then simply collapses. Written and directed by Steven Knight, who usually specializes in dark, noir-like stories (Eastern Promises, Locke, etc.), Serenity goes in a more science fiction-y direction, and several things fall apart. For one, the heightened performance style, presumably borrowed from classic movies like Double Indemnity, stops working as well within the new context. It becomes difficult to care about the characters, and the actors' oversized performances are somewhat silly. (Only Hounsou somehow hangs on to his dignity.)
And the entire film noir concept, with its sex, booze, and murder, doesn't make any sense when the twist comes; it's actually somewhat icky in context. Even the twist is handled poorly. Rather than saving it for a jaw-dropping moment at the very end, it's slowly foreshadowed (through odd cuts and camera movements and some dream/nightmare sequences), revealed early, and explained extensively, without leaving even the slightest possible hint of ambiguity about what's really going on. There's no mystery. The island scenery is appealing -- with occasional lightning storms adding atmosphere to the bright island air -- and Hathaway makes a great femme fatale. It's too bad Serenity couldn't have been a straight-up film noir from start to finish.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Serenity's violence. What's shown, and what's not shown? How did the violent scenes affect you?
How does the movie depict sex? How would you describe the main character's attitude toward it? What values are imparted?
How did you feel about the movie's twist? Did it shed light on the rest of the movie? Did it betray what you'd thought you'd seen? What makes for a good twist vs. a bad one?
What is film noir? Where did the genre come from, and what mood does it try to capture?
- In theaters: January 25, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: April 30, 2019
- Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke
- Director: Steven Knight
- Studio: Aviron Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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