Last night my wife and I watched a drama film, directed by Susanne Bier (“A Second Chance”, “Love Is All You Need”), from last year – “Serena”.
Set in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in 1929, during the Depression era, the film is based upon the 2008 novel, also called “Serena”, by Ron Rash, an American novelist, poet and Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University.
George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper – “American Sniper”, “Hit And Run”) is the owner of a logging operation that he is trying to keep afloat in the forests, and has ambitions to expand into Brazil.
George is aided by his business partner Buchanan (David Dencik – “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”) who deals with the bank over the business’ loans and the authorities that want to buy their land for a National Park.
The working conditions are dangerous and the pay isn’t great, but with the high rate of unemployment, George is able to take advantage of the menfolk’s desperation for work. After work, he is also able to take advantage of one of his employees, young cook Rachel Harmon (Ana Ularu – “Outbound”).
The local law enforcement officer, and conservationist, Sheriff McDowell (Toby Jones – “The Girl”) is dismayed by the destruction of the forest and is keen to find a way to shut down George’s operation so that the forests can be saved and become part of the proposed National Park.
George attends an equestrian event, where he spots and is instantly attracted to one of the riders, a young woman named Serena Shaw (Jennifer Lawrence – “The Hunger Games”, “American Hustle”).
Before long the pair are married in Boston and the new Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton return to the logging operation in North Carolina, where they discover that Harmon is pregnant with George’s baby. Serena leaves George in no doubt that, as far as she is concerned, anything that happened before they met no longer exists.
Serena soon makes her impact felt and is determined to keep the business afloat and as successful as possible, and a piece of quick thinking on her part leads to the mysterious Galloway (Rhys Ifans – “Passion Play”, “Harry Potter”) becoming her ally. However, George’s secret financial support of Rachel’s baby son Jacob, together with conspiracy and betrayal in business, Serena’s own difficult pregnancy sow the first seeds of what will lead towards an unhappy ending for all concerned.
I thought that the chemistry in this film between Cooper and Lawrence was really good – possibly due in part to this being the third movie they have thus far made together, and second where they play love interests – helping to make the passionate nature of their characters’ marriage seem convincing.
Lawrence particularly was impressive in her portrayal of an initially strong and independent woman gradually becoming more and more obsessive over her relationship. Many reviews of this movie have been less than complimentary. Personally I thought it was a good film, if somewhat dark in feeling. There aren’t really any characters here that you might describe as sympathetic. Rather, they tend to gravitate towards their baser instincts.
Visually the movie is great. The mountains and forests are beautifully captured, and the costume department have also done a superb job. If you’re looking for happy-ever-after, then keep on moving as there’s nothing to see here! However, for a good noir-ish film with Lawrence regularly appearing every inch the femme fatale, look no further…