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Serena (Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper) - DVD Review

Serena

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE third screen pairing of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle was, ironically, the first – and arguably least persuasive.

Susanne Bier’s Serena, an adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel, was actually shot prior to both of those other movies but has been languishing in an editing room for years. It’s perhaps easy to see why.

Bier has previously proved herself to be a master of intimate, character driven dramas such as Brothers and Love Is All You Need but here she struggles to marry the grounded and emotional with the epic, seemingly caught between the wish to create something gritty or melodramatic.

The result is curiously emotionally underwhelming in spite of the complex emotions at play in the story.

Set in the Smoky Mountains of America in 1929, the film picks up as ambitious timber businessman George Pemberton (Cooper) meets and immediately falls in love with Serena (Lawrence), an orphan he swiftly marries and makes his partner.

The power couple subsequently proceed to bribe their way towards their dream of escaping to the unspoilt lands of Brazil, eventually resorting to murder to keep their ambitions intact.

But as tragedy also strikes the couple and Pemberton’s past comes back to remind him of something he can never have, Serena finds an unlikely ally in a timber foreman named Galloway (Rhys Ifans), who becomes bonded to her by blood and smitten in a different kind of way.

The ensuing romantic drama is light on actual romance and lighter still on genuine chemistry but slowly morphs into something more sinister and haunting. And it’s kept on track by the quality of the performances.

For while Cooper and Lawrence struggle to strike the type of chemistry they have now become known for, they each bring different kinds of qualities to their respective roles. Cooper, for his part, wears his guilt and regret in suitably tortured fashion, while Lawrence’s descent into a Lady Macbeth-style schemer is nicely played.

Ifans, for his part, brings an intriguingly enigmatic quality to his Galloway and arguably deserved more screen time to tap into the complexity of his emotional journey (and bond with Serena). Likewise, Toby Jones and Sean Harris, who nevertheless work small wonders with under-written roles.

Bier’s film also looks good with Morten Søborg’s stunning cinematography helping to impart a keen sense of atmosphere.

Hence, while the film lacks either the emotional hook or kick you feel its turn of events warrants, it remains a curiously compelling experience that still deserves to find an audience.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 109mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 23, 2015