Reviewed by: Donald Munro

"The film spirals towards the inevitable like a Greek tragedy written in crayon."

When you put all the ingredients together, Serena should be a good film. The leads, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, put in pretty good performances, as do the supporting cast. The stunningly beautiful Smoky Mountains provide an epic backdrop. Low cloud curling through hillside pine forests is filmed to perfection. Sex, bribery and corruption, three murders, two industrial accidents and one particularly bloody miscarriage: what could go wrong? How could this be such a boring film?

Serena is set in 1929 depression era North Carolina. George Pemberton (Cooper) leaves his indebted and accident ridden logging camp for a social event where he spots Serena, whom he falls in love with. Serena (Lawrence) riding a white horse and wearing a bright red shirt, is striking against the greens and browns that make up most of the film's palette. The daughter of a lumber baron, orphaned by fire, she quickly marries George. It is the union of two agents of destruction. This is where the film goes wrong: heavy handed use of imagery; unbelievable melodrama; and really dull sex. Watching the sex scenes is slightly less interesting than watching your laundry go round in the washing machine. Oh no, there is a red sock in the white wash has more emotional tension. At least the red sock isn't signposting the plot. Red dresses, red cars, blood, look at this, it is important.

On returning to the logging camp George continues with the destruction of virgin forest. Serena involves herself with the running of the business. Any feminist message that a woman can perform just as well as a man in the male dominated field of logging is quickly undermined as she becomes a psychotic Lady Macbeth-like figure urging first her husband and then her henchman Galloway (Rhys Ifans) to commit murder. The film spirals towards the inevitable like a Greek tragedy written in crayon. It would be bleak if you could bring yourself to care. The life is just sucked out of Lawrence and Cooper's performances by too many extreme close up shots. They are supposed to convey intimacy but in fact reduce the actors' agency. What can be meaningfully expressed by two bits of unidentifiable skin touching?

With its predictable character arcs, signposted plot and unimaginatively tragic ending, Serena could still have been a passable film. It has things going for it, good acting and cinematography. What really kills it is the tedious handling of the central relationship between George and Serena.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2014
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Melodrama about a logging magnate who discovers his wife can't have children.
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Director: Susanne Bier

Writer: Christopher Kyle, Ron Rash

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Toby Jones, Blake Ritson, Kim Bodnia, Ned Dennehy, Charity Wakefield, Ana Ularu, David Dencik, Michael Ryan, Mark O'Neal, Jim High

Year: 2014

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, France


London 2014

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