Here is a good reason why only the Coen Brothers should be directing their scripts. George Clooney’s first time directing a film without playing an acting role might hint at his disinterest in the material. If you know anything about Coen Brothers films, it’s their genius toying with underlining comedy. “Suburbicon” has all the right ingredients in the script for a “Fargo” or a “Burn After Reading,” but Clooney misses the beat. Oscar Isaac (“The Promise,” “X-Men Apocalypse”) seems to be the only actor who understood the Coens’ tone in the script. Themes and points fail to be made as this pulpy film embraces darkness for no apparent reason. The acting isn’t much better, Damon and Moore embody similar characters from their stockpile.
“Suburbicon” is a new 1950s community mixed with implanted families from all over the country. When the neighborhood’s first African-American family moves next door, the white privileged town fears everything will change. The Lodge Family lives right behind the controversial new tenants and, inside their home, a robbery has disrupted their seemingly perfect existence. Gardner (Matt Damon) his crippled wife Rose (Julianne Moore), son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Rose’s twin sister Margaret (Moore), all sit tied in the dining room, one by one chloroformed to sleep. When they wake, something awful has happened that will change their family dynamic forever. While the town is protesting the first people of color, who are just trying to live a normal decent life, inside the Gardner household is where the real mischief lies.
“Suburbicon” was Damon’s second flop out of The Toronto Film Festival this year, “Downsizing” by Alexander Payne is also aimed at race issues and suffers tonal problems. His acting work here is a combination of devious “The Talented Mister Ripley” and stoic “The Good Shepherd,” meaning quite frankly, it’s nothing new from the Oscar winner. Same goes with Moore, doing double duty in the first part of the film, she once again finds herself as a 1950s housewife after “Far From Heaven,” “The Hours,” and she will do it again in “Wonderstruck” coming out later this year. The 10-year age difference between Moore and Damon plays further against their believability as a couple, chemistry notwithstanding. That leaves newcomer Jupe, who has quite an innocent and fascinating screen presence, and Oscar Isaac in the film’s only funny scene.
This is the sixth film directed by Clooney and he’s become far more than a hit-or-miss director. “Good Night and Good Luck” remains his top achievement, followed by “Ides of March,” but his talent behind the camera doesn’t seem to be getting any better. “Suburbicon” spends too many scenes introducing the audience to the tormented new family suffering at the hands of the white bigots, only to have such a small pay off. The film also lacks someone for the audience to root for, beyond the innocence of a child. The pacing might not be boring, but it’s restless, and don’t mistake suspense for curiosity; the only engagement here is to see how dark this movie is willing to get.
Final thought — Director Clooney misinterprets what could have been an insightful dark comedy from Coen Brothers.