Serena: No silver lining for Cooper and Lawrence

Based on Ron Rash’s 2008 novel, Serena marks the third screen pairing of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who both earned Oscar nominations for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013), with Lawrence winning Best Actress for the former.

The film, set in Depression-era North Carolina – and, therefore, filmed in the Czech Republic – stars Cooper as George Pemberton, a logging baron who woos and wins, in about 60 seconds of screentime – Lawrence’s equestrienne Serena Shaw, who quickly asserts herself as George’s partner in business as much as marriage.

Both George and Serena have troubled pasts, which come back to haunt them in dramatically inevitable ways, tainting their present and threatening their future. In attempting to create an empire, which includes at least two murders, their morals are compromised and their relationship festers with mistrust and, in Serena’s case, madness.

Lawrence’s clipped delivery as the forceful Serena eventually gives way to glassy-eyed psychosis while Cooper broods endlessly. They’re not bad, it’s just that as the story progresses they have fewer colors to exhibit as their characters. In support, both Rhys Ifans and Sean Harris glower and skulk, Toby Jones trots out his Southern accent as the local sheriff, and David Dencik plays George’s financial adviser, whose advice lands him, literally, in the crosshairs.

Under the art-house direction of Susanne Bier (also a producer), Serena is an atmospheric, brooding parable that vaguely echoes Southern Gothic and, given George and Serena’s disintegrating relationship, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. George’s constant obsession with killing a panther, thought to be extinct in the region, is clearly a metaphor for the ambitions that remain agonizingly out of his grasp. The tragic resolution, arrived at with a distinct lack of intensity, reeks with a pretentious irony better suited to literary than cinematic endeavors. Serena is certainly watchable, but it’s also a misfire.

Serena opens Friday !