You'd think that a film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, stars of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle would be screening at every available multiplex, but this is not a David O Russell film, and no multiplex wants to be seen dead in its company. And having seen it, I can understand why. Neither good nor bad, it is a curiosity that makes me wonder what anyone – and most of all the director, Suzanne Bier – had in mind when they started work on it.
In 2008, Ron Rash wrote a novel (called Serena) which was mildly successful. A couple of year later, it was optioned as a Hollywood movie, and was filmed in 2012. Since then, it has sat on the shelf, while people tried to work out what to do with it. Eventually, and without any apparent fanfare and publicity, it has been released, and it is no better or worse than it would have been a couple of years ago.
Comparisons have been made with Macbeth, and it's not hard to see why. Cooper plays George Pemberton, a lumber baron living and working in the woods of Carolina in 1929. He brings his beautiful new bride Serena (JLaw) to the forest, where she shows herself more than his equal, in terms of energy, commitment and ruthlessness. George's business is threatened by a number of external forces, and she adopts an uncompromisingly aggressive attitude to all their adversaries. Like Lady Macbeth, she is willing to go as far as it takes to achieve her goals,and it is to Lawrence's credit as an actor that despite being no more than 22 when it was filmed, she manages a) to look like a genuine 1920s movie star and b) to convince us that she is a dangerous and seductive woman.
Cooper meanwhile has a slightly less glamorous role, as the guy who thinks he's won the lottery of love, only to discover that she is borderline psychotic. But the film's problem lies in the fact that it is impossible to tell what we are meant to think or feel, since we are so left so far adrift by the plot, and the way in which the story is told. At no point did I care about any of the characters, least of all George and Serena, nor did I really care what happened to them – though it's clear from early on that it's not going to have a happy ending.
It might have just about worked out, if the third act of the film didn't take such a bizarre and melodramatic turn, whereby everything that has hitherto been mostly understated and subtle suddenly morphs into melodrama, with a lot of blood and thunder, none of which leaves us any the clearer about anything. It will probably disappear into the black hole of nothingness pretty quickly, and be remembered – if at all – as a strange blip on Lawrence's CV. It's a shame, really, because there must have been a good film in there trying to get out, but we're never going to find out what it is.