Film Review: SERENITY (USA 2018) ***

Serenity Poster

The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems.


Steven Knight


Steven Knight

The film’s opening offers a hint of what is to be expected of the new psychological noir thriller called SERENITY.  The eyes of a woman fill the screen as the camera enters the eyes as if the eyes are the entrance to the soul.  The audience is taken under water and gradually to the surface where a fishing boat named SERENITY is seen and the radio is heard.  The radio is broadcast from Radio Plymouth of Plymouth Island.  The audience will surely ask themselves where the hell on earth is Plymouth Island.  The closest link is the port of Plymouth in the south coast of England.  But is there a such a place called Plymouth Island?

The film could be described as FATAL ATTRACTION meets OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Hemmingway style, in a sort of screwed up David Lynch world.  Whether the film succeeds is dependent on the audience but SERENITY offers trashy fun with Matthew McConaughey in what is a typical Nicholas Cage role.

The subject of the story of Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), an out on his luck boatman who earns a living by taking tourists fishing at Plymouth Island.  He works with a caring hand (Djimon Hounsou), who he has an often fond/hate relationship with.  Baker appears obsessed with  capturing an elusive tuna he nicknames ‘Justice’.  He has never come close to catching Justice though he has caught many sharks instead.  Enters one obnoxious tourist (Jason Clarke) whose wife (Anne Hathaway) is willing to pay $10 million to Baker to see her husband dead.  Apparently, the husband’s son wishes the same.  The husband tells Baker: “My son is in his basement all day and when I finally find out what he was doing – playing a video game, his reply was: “Would you rather me be doing something else like killing you?”  This line is a clue as to where the story is leading.  It is all very intriguing at this point in this strange but absorbing mystery movie.

The script, also written by director Steven Knight, keeps the audience guessing as to what is really happening.  The dialogue often has two meanings. Strange characters like Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), always in a suit, appeal out of nowhere.  Reid says he is the rules of the game and does not care whether he lives or dies or who he is.

The film is enlivened by McConaughey’s crazed performance.  But it is Jason Clarke, the mean obnoxious tourist who steals the show.  Knight includes some very hot sex senes with McConaughey.

The film works before the audience is clued as to what is happening.  After what has been made clear, expectations seem to dwindle.  A sort of ah-ha, so this is what the film is all about.  Nothing more can be that interesting and the film then ends with a disappointing Hollywood ending.  For all that is worth, SERENITY is trashy fun while it works, and fortunately, it works for a majority of its running time.



Film Review: ALLIED (UK/USA 2016) ****

allied_movie_poster.jpgDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Steven Knight

Stars: Brad Pitt, Vincent Ebrahim, Xavier De Guillebon, Marion Cotillard

Review by Gilbert Seah

The World War II romance thriller, ALLIED feels like the old Hollywood war romances like CASABLANCA, the kind that featured top Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Part of the reason is at the film’s start, the hero, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes down to the Moroccan desert only to land make way to Casablanca where he meets his mission-assigned wife, Mairanne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard).

The story is set in 1942 North Africa. Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meets French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) on a secret mission behind enemy lines. The couple reunites in London and get married, eventually having a daughter together. Their relationship is strong and normal but becomes threatened by the brink of war, as Vatan is presented with the possibility that Beausejour is a sleeper spy working for the Germans. Vatan is then placed under considerable pressure to kill Beausejour himself or to be executed for failing to obey orders. Convinced of her innocence, he sets out on a very dangerous mission to clear her name.

Zemeckis creates and maintains a solid tense atmosphere throughout the film. The few action sequences (the assassination of the German ambassador; the prison break) are executed efficiently without much ado, keeping in line that ALLIED is a suspense thriller and not an action flick. The romance between Pitt and Cotillard works. The love scene is executed with finesse and taste with the sexiness intact. The couple make love in the car, the scene ending with the sand storm outside the vehicle blurring the windows of the vehicle.

ALLIED is a star movie, no doubt about that. The film would be so much less effective if Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard were replaced with lesser known actors, just as CASABLANCA cannot be envisioned without Bogart and Bergman. British actor, handsome Matthew Goode is hardly recognizable in the role of Guy Sangster, whose face is scarred by the war. The film has a gay slant with the addition of Max’s lesbian sister, Bridget (Lizzy Caplan) who in one ironic scene is asked by soldiers as a request to kiss her female companion.

For all the film’s seriousness, Zemeckis adds in some very wry humour, especially in the scene where Max is confronted with orders to kill Beausejour.

Zemickis makes sure these questions remains on the mind of every member of the audience: Is Beausejour really a German spy? If she is, would Max complete his duty and kill her? Despite the obvious answers to the two questions, Zemeckis pulls a good twist to the story at the end.

ALLIED proves once again the talent of director Zemeckis. He has proven his mettle with films of different genres like the BACK TO THE FUTURE films, THE POLAR EXPRESS, WHO FARMED ROGER RABBIT and of course, FORREST GUMP. Allied adds another success to his list.


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