Susanne Bier may not be the selling point of the long-awaited, much seemingly-delayed feature Serena, but it feels much more like a Bier film than the previous works of co-leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Adapted from a book, the film takes place in post-stock crash America, specifically a logging forest in Carolina, where logging magnate George Pemberton (Cooper) is overseeing the decimation of a forrest for wood, glorious wood. On a brief outing across the country to see his sister, George becomes fascinated with a young horse-rider named Serena (Lawrence) and by the next scene they are to be married. She's ok with taking up a life on the logging camp, but George's right-hand man (David Dencik), the sniffing nose of the law (Toby Jones) and the mother of George's illegitimate child (Ana Ularu) begin to derail their marital bliss and the hopes of going to George's other land, in Brazil.
After the film settles in the camp, the threat to become an interesting community drama opens up with the hint of George and his loggers raising their voices as a government official pitches making the forrest a national preserve, a park for the people, rather than something to be stripped and gutter, but as soon as the few scenes about this pop in, the film reverts to Jennifer Lawrence looking across the woods as people chop trees, staring at Cooper, proving she's as much a powerhouse figure in the industry as him, then staring at the child she hasn't given him and pouting. By the time Rhys Ifans' quiet, hairy hunter joins the plot, the film has left the concept of cerebral and carefully plotted hitting all the branches on its way down to tedious and dumb thriller, complete with wannabe No Country For Old Men murderer approaching sequences.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the film goes off the rails because it is riding many different sets of tracks from the outset, leaping between the romance, the drama, the law-versus-loggers suspense tale, none of these are exactly interesting, and made worse when the players feel completely off their games. Cooper sounds bunged up and nasally throughout, an odd choice, whilst Lawrence just pouts like she's in a Twilight, Toby Jones seems to aggressively English-ise his usually great American accent, whereas Ifans looks to be trying as hard to hide his face in the film with hair so that he won't be noticed by the audience. Sorry Rhys.
Serena can look beautiful with great frequency, shots of the forrest with rolling mist, landscapes and vistas that are full of depth, but it only jars when we are sent back into the lacking narrative, constantly on the verge of tedium despite trying every gloriously schticky plot conceit in the book (Not the book it is adapted from but the metaphorical book of which no one has read, maybe like the book this is based on given how this script feels). For all the weird choices in performances and the crazy storylines that come and rear their heads, it is sinful to be so dull in every aspect, we should relish the glorious lunacy of Rhys Ifans and Bradley Cooper hunting puma and panther throughout, like the makers know that we are anticipating maybe this will be a hunt to the death for one of them, but they avoid that by going all Terminator/Looper on the child instead, much less fun, and unsatisfying when the climax seems to take up 2% of the film.
The review screening of this film, shot back in 2012, ended with the simple temp title "end credit" instead of actual credits. 2 and a half years after being shot, the credits aren't fully finalised, perhaps because everyone is fighting for who is forced to get credit on this one. Good luck everyone, for now 'end credit' is your best option.