Lawrence and Cooper in stilted and misbegotten “Serena”


“Serena” was dead before arrival. The misbegotten adaptation of the popular and well regarded best seller and PEN/Faulkner finalist by Ron Rash, has been delayed for almost two years. And while it is getting a theatrical release today, it is already streaming on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

asernaStarring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, flush from the success of “Silver Linings Playbook,” it was filmed before their duet together in “American Hustle.”

“Serena,” by Danish director Susanne Bier, is a tale of passion, greed murder and betrayal in 1930s timber country that flirts with early feminism and environmentalism.

In a nutshell: Cooper plays corrupt owner of real estate the government wants to turn into a national park. He stands in his doorway admiring its beauty while promising to deforest it.

A blond-haired Jennifer Lawrence channels Renee Zellweger as a traumatized beauty, an orphan whose family died in a fire.

“I think we should get married,” he tells her the first time they meet. They are both on horses at the time.

Soon they are living in the lumber town where he is the only employer. Shocked that they don’t have an eagle to kill the rattlesnakes that plague the loggers – because they aren’t indigenous to North Carolina – she imports one.

“They should know,” she says imperiously as the skeptical loggers look on, “it’s a woman who tamed the eagle.”

Later she tells him: “I have your child inside me.”

But he also put a child inside one of his employes, and she is slowly driven mad by jealousy. So she points a logger whose life she has saved, played by Rhys Ifan, and who vows to do her bidding in the direction of the other woman and child. Cooper’s corrupt dealings, meanwhile, are unraveling.

Did I mention he is also hunting his spirit animal, a panther?

“Serena” is lusciously shot by Morten Sorborg – who worked with Bier on her Oscar-winning “In A Better World” – in the manner of “Heaven’s Gate,” but unlike the pioneer saga “Serena” is an unlikely candidate for rehabilitation.

Bier’s stilted emotional sensibility and a lost-in-translation screenplay by Christopher Kyle, turn a star-studded contender into a video on demand curiosity.

** Two stars

With, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu. Produced by Susanne Bier, Ben Cosgrove, Ron Halpern, Paula Mae Schwartz, Tod Wagner, Nick Wechsler. Written by Christopher Kyle. Directed by Susanne Bier. Rated R for violence, sexuality. Approximate running time: 109 minutes.

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