Director: Susanne Bier (2014)
Love, madness and corruption collide with catastrophic results in this compelling Depression-era drama.
Based on the novel by Ron Rash, it brings together Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as on-screen lovers for the second time in an exquisite exploration of the pernicious power of passion.
George Pemberton (Cooper) is a logging company owner in North Carolina. In the wake of the Wall St. crash he’s struggling to finance an ambitious business project in Brazil.
Meanwhile as he tries to fend off central government plans for a National Park on his land, the local sheriff McDowell (Toby Jones) is investigating his firm for corruption.
At a society party George is smitten by the beautiful, strong-minded Serena (Lawrence). Following an impetuous romance, he whisks her off to the Smoky Mountains where she wins over a sceptical workforce with her knowledge and attitude.
With his leading man looks decked out in stubble, leather jacket and wide brimmed hat, Cooper is solidly convincing as the panther-hunting entrepreneur. Lawrence has yet to deliver a poor performance and doesn’t disappoint here. There is an easy comparison to be made between the characters of Serena and Lady McBeth – but Cleopatra may be a better fit.
Talented and handsome, the leading couple share a resonant chemistry. They nicely underplay a ripe script which helps to navigate some unsteady plotting littered with symbolism and told at a measured pace.
The Swedish director is fascinated with cultural context, mixing superstition and religion with labour disputes and a keenly observed social hierarchy. It’s a shame the many interesting minor characters are too often pushed into the background.
Electricity, the railroads and mechanisation are changing a landscape filled with bears, eagles, snakes and horses; the impressive attention to period detail and epic landscapes are captured by the rich cinematography of Morten Søborg.
Gradually George’s devotion to his bride begins to cloud his judgement and she exploits every opportunity to encourage his independence away from his business partner Buchanan (David Dencik). An accident sees a hunting guide called Galloway (Rhys Ifans) declare his loyalty to her.
When Serena is unable to provide George with the healthy heir they crave; deceit, jealousy and murder follow.