It saddens me to say, because he is such a terrific multi-faceted filmmaker (I am a big fan of George Clooney’s Good Night And Good Luck, and I was on The Monuments Men team too, to name a couple of his behind the camera efforts), but with the weirdly detached experience of watching Suburbicon, Clooney has sadly staged a misfire.
As I say in my video review above, Clooney, serving as director and co-writer (with Grant Heslov) of an old unproduced Coen Brothers script, just can’t get the tone right. Is it supposed to be a socially conscious drama tackling racism in the white suburbia of the late 1950’s? Or is it a noirish black comedy murder mystery that would seem to have been cooked as a Coens specialty? Or is it really just a mishmash of both with no discernible reason for being?
What it appears to be is two distinctly different kinds of movies. One is based on the true experience of William and Daisy Meyers, who moved their family into an all white neighborhood in Levitttown, Pennsylvania in 1957. With the action moved up a couple of years, actors Leith M. Burke and Karamah Westbrook play the couple who find a chilly reception in suburbia to the point of angry crowds of neighbors harassing them, grocery store clerks upping the price of milk 20 times over the label and so on, in an overt and ugly demonstration of the kind of racism that oddly seems to have seen its time come again in America. Perhaps that is what attracted Clooney to the idea of dusting off this earlier writing effort of the Coens, and certainly having worked several times with the pair as an actor (most recently in the underappreciated comic gem Hail Caesar! and the amusing O Brother Where Art Thou? and Burn After Reading) it would seem like the perfect melding of talents. Not to be. I would rather just go back and watch Pleasantville again, a movie in a similar setting that at least knew what it wanted to be.
Suburbicon is largely overcome with the goings on at the next door white neighbor family who are apparently in deep, dark trouble. Matt Damon plays Gardner Lodge, Julianne Moore is his wife, and Noah Jupe is son Nicky. After two thugs stage a break-in at their home and attack the family in a lethal way, the wife dies. However Moore isn’t out of the picture as her twin sister Margaret takes up the slack. The killers continue to badger Gardner at his office, and soon a mysterious insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) turns up and the plot thickens. The scenes with Isaac have a lot of spark missing in the rest of the picture and even if we aren’t sure where he is coming from, it wakes you from your slumber. The problem, and there are actually many, is that there is no real rooting factor for any of these victims and/or principal characters, white or black. You need to care about somebody, but the film never gives us that chance in any significant way. The plotting is convoluted in this offbeat mix of styles and nothing quite comes together. If it was meant at one time, or now, to be a dark comedy (conceivable) any laughs are completely non-existent.
This is a movie that takes itself very seriously but never really gels, which is a shame because when you have this level of talent involved it is doubly disappointing for those going in the hopes of seeing smart adult entertainment. Though the actors give it the old college try they seem lost. Damon can’t get a grip on Gardner, Moore is stuck in two roles that don’t add up to one, and only Isaac seems to be in the game. There was probably a very good reason the Coens have had this script sitting around so long. Clooney, Heslov and Teddy Schwarzman produced. Paramount releases it Friday.
Do you plan to see Suburbicon? Let us know what you think.