First Hit: As a thriller it was average, but as the characters begin to question everything and reaching the end of their roles or usefulness, it became more obvious about how this story was unfolding.
The film starts with Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) fishing on his boat Serenity based at Plymouth Island. He, his vessel, and his deckhand Duke (Djimon Hounsou) were chartered by two drunk guys who want Dill and Duke to help them catch fish.
However, they hook up “The Big One,” Dill takes over the pole and attempts to reel in “The Big One.” They get it close to the boat but end up losing the fish. The charter guests are pissed because they didn’t get to catch the fish themselves. Dill is obsessed with catching “The Big One.”
There is a strangeness to the way Duke talks with Dill, and it is even stranger when Dill visits Constance (Diane Lane) for a quick roll in the hay, and then she pays him. Then she asks about her cat.
Dill needs money, and he thinks Duke is terrible luck, so he fires Duke. Dill then starts fishing alone for sailfish at night and trying to catch “The Big One” during the day. Although he’s successful with the night fishing, he’s not making any progress on his real goal, to catch “The Big One.”
One day Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway) shows up, and we learn she is his ex-wife and that the son he had with her, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) is the same boy Dill telepathically communicates with and the audience has gotten a glimpse constantly typing at a computer in some unknown spot.
Karen wants to give Dill (AKA John to her) 10m dollars cash if he kills her current husband, Frank (Jason Clarke) who beats her and Patrick. Dill refuses and Duke continue to reminds Dill about following the righteous path of the Lord. Karen says her husband is coming to this remote island anyway and that she’s arranged for Dill to take Frank out on a charter. She hopes that Dill will get Frank drunk and toss him overboard and let the sharks eat him.
This is the set up for the film’s story, and it takes a while for it to gel.
In the meantime, there are plenty of hints for the audience about the surrealism of this story. These hints include the bar tender’s actions and words, the silent old man sitting at the table in the bar, the fishing store proprietor always saying everyone knows everything about everybody, Constance and the way she acts, and a new character who sells electronic fish finders, Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong). These hints include oddly controlled dialogue, references to being on this island and nowhere near a mainland, Reid walking around in a suit, the traffic light dance Dill does every morning, and The Doc (an unknown or seen character).
I enjoyed parts of the film with out-loud laughter, but I was the only one laughing in the theater maybe because I was the only one who figured it out or everyone else was bored. I liked that I felt the boy’s intensity when the film showed his eyes against the computer screen full of code.
McConaughey brought his standard look and feel to the role. It wasn’t anything unique. Hathaway was OK. The scenes where she succumbs to her husband's demands were intense, but other times her performance didn’t carry the power it needed to. Lane had a small, yet pivotal role and was good. Clarke was well suited to the part of cruel husband and general jerk. Strong had an interesting character because he seemed so out of place, and I didn’t get why he was in the story although he was a great sounding board for Dill. Sayegh was outstanding by expressing his intent through his eyes as we saw them on the computer screen. Hounsou was terrific as the good angel in the film, trying to keep McConaughey on course. Steven Knight wrote and directed this film. I can see why he got the talent he got to star in this film, but somehow the execution or the lack of additional depth in the story made it only mediocre.
Overall: The film has its moments, but somehow it doesn’t quite add up to the film it could have been.