As an actor, George Clooney's career is almost unparalleled. He has won major awards, been the star of major blockbusters, and has shown that he is just as capable of being funny as he is serious. He is about as bankable as they come and even has quite a respectable producing record as he was involved in movies such as Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, and the Oscar winner Argo to name a few. As impressive as that side of his time in Hollywood has been, stepping behind the camera has been a bit of a crapshoot for Clooney. He has some good ones to his name such as The Ides of March and Good Night, and Good Luck. But he also has Leatherheads and The Monuments Men on his record, which are absolutely terrible. So would Suburbicon fall on the right side of the white picket fence or should it be left out with the trash? Let's find out.
The year is 1959 and a town in anywhere America called Suburbicon seems to be the place to be for good living—for white people at least. When an African American family named the Mayerses move into the neighborhood, the town goes into a tizzy but this is not where the bulk of the plot of Suburbicon lies. Living behind the Mayerses is Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family, consisting of his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and his son Nicky. Rose is bound to a wheelchair and has an identical (other than hair color) twin sister named Margret. While the rest of the town freaks out over their new neighbors, the Gardners seem to be the only family not throwing a fit, but that is probably because they have a bit bigger of a problem to worry about. Without giving much away, let's just say there are some people in Suburbicon who are unhappy with the Gardner family and lets leave it at that.
As I'm sure you can glean from the trailers, Suburbicon may not be the paradise that it seems but there is just one problem, the mystery is not at all compelling. They do a good job of stringing the viewer along with some well-placed information, but really the payoffs are never satisfying or unexpected. The stakes are also so low and uninteresting that I really found it difficult to care at all about what was going on by about the halfway point. The real mystery here is why they decided to shove the Mayerses into the movie without really giving us time to get to know the characters, but we will dive into that a bit later.
Probably the most appealing thing about "Suburbicon" is the cast. A long career in the business has earned Clooney some pretty good friends and he called more than a few of them for this movie. Matt Damon is about as foundational a lead man as his director and like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, the viewer inherently knows this is a guy you are rooting for. Julianne Moore is one of the best actors of her generation period. She is able to do so many things so well and is always convincing. Unfortunately, neither of her dual roles are in any way interesting and really, this is a problem that plagues the entire movie. The conversations the characters have with each other usuially lead nowhere because the writers are tyring to better serve the mystery than the plot or characters. This helps to make all the characters dull and unappealing,so much so it becomes hard to care about what happens to them at all. The only one who I think really took control of their character was Oscar Issac who is fantastic but is barely in the movie. Giving too much information about his role dips into spoiler territory but lets just say his appearance is a welcomed one.
As I was watching Suburbicon I thought to myself, "This feels like someone trying to write like the Coen brothers but without the wit, intelligence and talent". The characters are quirky but without depth, the plot is twisting but without any real destination and the themes are interesting but ultimately shallow. Turns out that the Coens ACTUALLY did write this movie but it comes with a caveat. Flashback to 1986, a young Joel and Ethan Coen have just finished their first feature "Blood Simple". They wrote a draft of "Suburbicon" and let it sit for over two decades until Clooney brought it out of the drawer. Now I can only speculate here, but I would assume that the Coens have not touched this script in years. Clooney and Grant Heslov also get writing credits, which leads me to believe that they made some changes. I trust that the Coens would not have let this movie turn out this way if they had been more involved.
Apart from the Coen brother rip-off feel that "Suburbicon" gives off and the bland characters, the writing is still pretty bad. The 1 hour and 45-minute run-time feels more like a countdown to the viewer getting to leave the theater than a well-made plot. The dialogue is less than stellar and oh yeah there is the Mayer family issue. The movie opens highlighting the shock wave that the Mayerses moving into Suburbicon causes and other than a few scenes here and there they mostly feel like social commentary filler. My thought is that the Mayerses were there as the juxtaposition for the Gardner family, that while the Mayerses are being more or less tortured by the Suburbicon alt-right the Gardners are having a much harder time dealing with more self-inflicted torture. Jordan Peele and the makers of "Get Out" would be ashamed of the lack of bite and comedy that "Suburbicon" uses to tackle racial tensions.
Back in 2002, George Clooney stepped behind the camera for the first time directing "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind". For a first time director, you could not ask for a better set up. The semi-true story of Chuck Barris, former television game show host who hosted "The Gong Show", "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game" who in his autobiography also claimed to be a C.I.A. assassin. The script was written by one of the most talented writers in the biz in Charlie Kauffman and with a killer star in Sam Rockwell. "Confessions" sounds like the best movie ever on paper, but I hate to say it is underwhelming and this seems to be what Clooney does best.Suburbicon feels a lot like "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" to me, it seems like a can't miss but somehow both movies fell flat. There is no impressive camera work, other than the period soundtrack, the sound is lacking and the tone is messy and uninspired. There are elements of comedy here, but Clooney is not able to take it far enough and this causes the serious moments to fail with nothing to bounce off of. This is some of Clooney's' worst work and definitely feels like a directorial step back.
The Suburbicon trailers jumped off the screen when we first saw them but I can tell you that all of those fun trailer moments are not only the best parts of the movie but end up hitting way harder in the trailer than in the movie itself. It never had the potential to be an amazing movie in my eyes, it always sort of felt like a "friends get together and make a movie" type of movie but I expected better than this. Save your time and effort for something else, even on cable. Maybe the Coens have a few more scripts from the 80's and Clooney can give this thing another shot.