Serena : A Film Review

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Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu, Sam Reid, Conleth Hill, Charity Wakefield, Douglas Hodge, Christian McKay, Philip Zanden, Ned Dennehy.

Serena
The pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are is a proven combination. Having been made in 2012 by the Director and part Producer, the Danish attendee to close detail and a comprehensive storyline without too much diversion is Susanne Bier. A distributed is clearly now in place and we get to see what has been held back for a few years.

This is a period drama set in East America, the North Carolina Forests, soon to become State Parks. The time is 1929 and the colonial fore bearers are gone and the land is allocated on a lost continental basis. The victors took the spoils of much land and the forests were an enormously valuable natural commodity. Like the mining, oil and agricultural wealth grasped post civil war, some winners were founded sufficiently to create their own banking systems.

The character George Pemberton (Cooper) is a young entrepreneur with a vision for making heaps of money from deforesting large sections of forestry which is mainly relatively cheap and easily accessible Pinewood.
He has enlisted a partner to share the risks and also to be an additional pair of eyes.
This is the redoubtable, advisor Buchanan (David Dencik) whose homoerotic attraction to George is a slow burner ignited by the return after a trip to retrieve more funds from a Bank, of George with a wife. Swept up from an encounter his sister who is in the closed elitist society set, is the formidable attractive, fair and astute alluring Serena. The fair fine features of Serena are not reduced as she puts a white horse through its paces.
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Her commanding positive teamwork with the animal are enough to impress George from a distance. George’s sister gives him the tale of her loss of her entire family. From her father a large scale timber baron whose empire was many leagues above the North Carolina operation George has started.
To call a woman feisty is I am given to understand an unfettered insult and demeaning as often applied ingloriously to women.
Hot, quarrelsome, courageous and single minded on the other hand can not have those accusations leveled and it is only part of the character summation this beautiful horsewoman turned married woman.
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In marrying she thinks she finds her soulmate and fellow adventurer with plenty of common direction and interest.
As a partner in business George is confident of what she can bring outside the house. The comparability of the couple have no sexual shortcomings and she quickly becomes pregnant.
As an operator of business from a horse or in her boots on the hills she carries every action out without error. Her countenance is accepted.
The person who we see most put out by her presence is the directionless Buchanan. There are a couple of head woodsmen that all three rely on to enforce their instructions

These are familiar actors which is a feature of this film.
II is odd to see Douglas Hodges as a fiery logsman with a passable impression of a doughty American shouting the odds of the new America.
Also the squat doleful Toby Jones is cast as the righteous Sheriff of the adjacent town. He is implausibly plausible given the cock a manny story.

Sean Harris and Rhys Ifans are the two dependable.
Rhys Ifans under his ten gallon hat does a mean meany oddball.
Serena accepts his judgement if not his outsider withdrawn, need to be an outsider. Rhys paces alongside things. Rails freshly laid. Logs freshly felled and houses freshly inhabited. He acts feral (not unlike the feral under-panted 4W+1Funeral wimp) as the other dependable Harris we recall from the newly released ’71 in which he plays the Long haired beatnik guised Spook of her majesties finest. He is here an only mildly less savory self interested pugnacious beetler in the wood pile.

It is a right ant-heap and by way of relation Serena sends for a trained Eagle to take care of the snakes which have killed several of the needed workers.

The first section, well over halfway into the story little hens of any consequence. The anti-romance is played. George does not meet her expectations and is easily given instructions without being aware of them, she has a major plan in mind. She has to in my mind emulate and better the achievements of her lost Father. The Father lost in the fire and the ghost of the loss of an entire family explains much of her driven nature.
She is not conscious of this herself and is therefore not able to forgive readily for minor transgressions.
George on the other hand is reflective and cautious. Serena is the risk taker.
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When the film becomes a highly intense crime thriller it is complete with murder, conspiracy, corruption and revenge all told.

A side story involves George’s child conceived with his ‘maid’ the delectable Rachel (Romanian actress Ana Ularu), whose continued presence upsets Serena on occasions, despite her instruction to George when she realises, as soon as she arrives that this past and child exist.
Only occasionally does she have cause to make anything of it but on the triangle swings several twists.

Serena is at the centre of this melodrama and with flawless imperious portrayal of restrained imploding self confidence the magnetism I for one see, as many others recognise, Jennifer Lawrence delivers a brilliant performance with the panoply of emotions suited to her poise and beautiful face and stature. It is a character that for the reasons addressed earlier requires the unbelievable passage of the story at times to be delivered in the manner which makes you think of the wider possibilities.

To this it has to be added the impression I took of Bradley Coopers performance was it was wooden not only in the material but delivery. He may have drilled to much; making him out at times was a problem hopefully most didn’t experience. Don’t worry as most of the best lines are Serena’s. Rhys Ifans just comes out with cliches through clenched teeth.
The forest as it turns out is in Czechoslovakia – presumably they have stopped deforesting large sections of North America and now have a preference for Fracking.

I would like to see Jennifer in a political Drama. I wonder if she would play the courageous life of a French woman scorned and driven to show the guys what women can do in Politics. Beware what you wish.

The story turns into a very suspense driven implosion of the relationships which have taken you to the North Carolina timber rough sawn America.
The lush scenic background of the Smoky Mountains and the attention to costume detail are (Czech shoot aside!) very natural and give the film the cosmetic of convincing cinema.

Conclusion. ###3

The full dynamic of the film is from my viewing the character of Serena shaped by the events. That makes it succeed on a couple of levels but it has some one dimensional aspects which takes away from what could be a more incisive film. If the one to one scenes between George and Serena were more complex; after all it becomes a complex relationship.
The challenges and the difficulties of making a life in this territory is there but folk like Toby Jones who succeeds in making a Good guy fighting for the locals acerbic. A bad turn – I dread to think how he will turn us against Captain Mainwaring – yes currently being filmed and Michael Gambon – is the hired ace to play a Buffon – how does that work? What the hell is happening to the Film Industry.
Can you not rely on the actors to choose their parts wisely and to embrace the craft of cinema without looking at the paycheck first?

This film will appeal as a kind of un troubling drama and will hardly bring down too many trees. The he digital age. Will newsprint ever cease?

John Graham

23 October 2014

Belfast

On at QFT from Friday 24 October to 6 November 2014
Check times

SHOWTIMES
This Week
Fri 24th Oct – 6:40pm
Fri 24th Oct – 9:00pm
Sat 25th Oct – 6:40pm
Sat 25th Oct – 8:50pm
Sun 26th Oct – 6:40pm
Sun 26th Oct – 9:00pm
Mon 27th Oct – 6:40pm
Mon 27th Oct – 9:00pm
Tue 28th Oct – 6:40pm
Tue 28th Oct – 9:00pm
Wed 29th Oct – 6:40pm
Wed 29th Oct – 9:00pm
Upcoming
Thu 30th Oct – 6:40pm
Thu 30th Oct – 8:50pm
Fri 31st Oct – 6:30pm
Sat 1st Nov – 8:40pm
Sun 2nd Nov – 8:50pm
Mon 3rd Nov – 8:50pm
Tue 4th Nov – 8:50pm
Wed 5th Nov – 9:15pm
Thu 6th Nov – 9:15pm

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