It’s fair to say that British writer and director Steven Knight has come a long way in his career. In the early days, he wrote for Brummie comedian Jasper Carrott on various projects, including his BBC comedy series The Detectives which also starred Jesus, AKA Robert Powell.
When he was done with that, he then went on to get a co-credit in creating the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which is quietly impressive, if a tad random. Certainly a bit of trivia worth holding onto however, for the pub quiz.
In 2013 however, he created and wrote the Brummie BBC historical drama Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy. This clearly opened some doors for him, career-wise, which has led to him writing a number of big budgeted features, such as 2015’s Burnt and last year’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
This is his third stab at directing however, and on this evidence, it’s unlikely to be a regular occurrence.
On the sleepy island of Plymouth, ex-soldier turned fisherman Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) takes tourists out on his boat Serenity, in the hopes they’ll catch a whopper.
One day, out of the blue, his ex wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives, with her new, abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) in tow. She’s had enough of him quite frankly, and as her and Baker have a son together, he’d be looking out for his child too.
Her plan is simple: Baker takes Frank out on a fishing expedition, but only Baker returns. in doing so, not only does she guarantee the safety of their son, she’ll also give him $10 mill for his troubles.
Everything gets a little hazier however, when Baker has a meeting with a fishing equipment sales rep, who informs him that the waters Baker finds himself in are far murkier than he could ever possibly imagine.
Serenity is one of those films that, halfway through, changes direction abruptly, crunching the gears, and in the process almost becomes another film. It’s not the first to do this, others have, successfully, like 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, which starts life as a bank heist, before becoming a vampire flick. This, sadly, cannot join that list.
Ironically, it’s Knight the writer who fails the most here, and not Knight the inexperienced director. Actually, he fails on all counts, but most definitely on the script front. His attempt, with the first half at least, in paying homage to film noir on water, is nothing short of embarrassing. McConaughey and Hathaway are hamming it up to such an extent, you can almost see their snouts. It’s as if they were deliberately being terrible in a way of getting out of the entire project; unfortunately, for all of us, that didn’t work.
The problem is, the first half of the film is so bad, you would think that a severe gear change could only help. Remarkably, it doesn’t. Knight is desperate to get all M. Night. Shyamalan, with his version of a cinematic twist you don’t see coming, that he simply doesn’t think it through. It’s not so much that you don’t see it coming, it’s the fact that you don’t buy it when it does. To say it’s nonsensical is an understatement.
And don’t even get us started on Diane Lane’s character paying McConaughey’s for sex.
Sometimes the question should be asked that if you make such an undeniably bad film, should you ever have the opportunity to get behind the camera again? On this evidence, we don’t even need a 50/50 or Phone a Friend, the answer is a resounding no.