Most films that hang around in Hollywood studios’ cupboards for a substantial period of time are fairly certain to have a few cobwebs still clinging to them when they are finally pulled out and shoved under cinema lights. The movie business ain’t cheap – keeping a big budget, period-dress number under wraps isn’t usually the done thing. Especially when that number boasts two of the most bankable stars of the moment. So perhaps the disappointment at the long awaited release of Serena should have been expected.
The dream-team of Bradley Cooper and J-Law seems to have somewhat faltered. Like a horse uncertain on its feet, Serena totters from gloomy mountain shot to relationship doom only to stagger back again. And yes, that was an awkward animal metaphor, because there are enough in this film to make any audience member want to join Bradley’s hunting team. Serena (Lawrence) insists on importing and training an eagle to catch the serpents lurking in the forest grass (lurking serpents, you say? Now what could that possibly stand for?), and there is a panther that, despite being elusive, may as well be a central character given the amount of times its mentioned. Always in a mysterious and moody manner, of course. In case it wasn’t clear, this place is a bit wild.
To be fair to the red carpet pair, both Cooper and Lawrence are far from bad. Lawrence especially has moments where she shines; the sight of her in blonde pin-up girl hair and silk bow blouse, swinging an axe into a tree, as her husband’s timber crew stand around gormlessly, is pretty satisfying. But of course it is, its Jennifer Lawrence wielding a weapon – its been proved to be a pretty safe cinema bet.
Despite attempts at smouldering sex scenes and emotional breakdowns the spark that ignited the pair in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle seems to have gone missing. The thrills don’t thrill, the threats don’t seem truly threatening and, while one point of the film suggests tragedy, the characters are so deeply unlikeable that the spiral into the final climax cannot quite strike as heartrending. George Pemberton, who appears to be positioned as the film’s hero, is a timber baron, with whiffs of corruption, fighting against a National Park scheme, for goodness sake. The rousing speech he gives about free enterprise and hard work might go down better across the pond, but from here it strikes as David Cameron-style political fluff.
The mountain shots are pretty, the cast are pretty, and Rhys Ifans skulks around. But for a film supposedly about death, dishonesty, betrayal and vengeance, it is only shocking in its lacklustre.