Suburbicon

I think it’s safe to say…George Clooney works a lot better in front of the camera than behind it. Sure, a few of his directing efforts were okay (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck), but he’s also given us The Monuments Men, Leatherheads, and The Ides of March. Now he’s taken an old Coen brothers script, which he reworked and rewrote, and gave us a hot mess of a movie.

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) lives with his family in “Suburbicon,” which we see in the opening fake ‘50s commercial, is the perfect place for families to live. Yet when a black family moves in, the racist white folks start harassing them. The Lodge family isn’t all that concerned about their new neighbors. Their boys play baseball together, and they’ve got bigger problems. Mrs. Lodge (Julianne Moore) is in a wheelchair after a car accident, and her twin sister is living with them.

Two guys (Alex Hassell and Glenn Fleshler) rob the Lodge family, which results in the death of one of the twins. Things start going south real quick, and real quickly, I started thinking of better Coen movies this borrowed from: Fargo, Blood Simple, and a dash of Burn After Reading.

The movie tries for some dark comedic elements that never work. We’re also supposed to chuckle at the ‘50s “Leave it to Beaver” vibe with the satirical aspects of suburban life, and finely manicured lawns, shiny Oldsmobiles, etc. That’s all been done before, though.

The first half of the movie is terrible. The second half is bad, but at least we have Oscar Isaac playing a smart and sleazy insurance agent. I wished the movie would’ve been all him. Oh, and the police detective (Jack Conley) was interesting. Those two are characters that we usually see in Coen brothers movies that make it all work. In this film, you basically start hating every other person on screen.

The tonal shifts don’t work, and the two different stories don’t pull together properly. The story about the African-American family is underdeveloped, and at times it feels manipulative. One of the most ridiculous scenes involves a thug breaking a window of their home and draping a Confederate flag over the window sill. Oy.

The score, by the always reliable Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter, Ghost Writer, Philomena, Imitation Game, King’s Speech, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, Benjamin Buttons, to name a few of his film scores)…has a light jazz feel sometimes, and it’s all perfect at capturing the time period. I was worried after such a horrible score in the Matt Damon movie The Informant. Sometimes directors try to get quirky with that and it becomes distracting. It’s a shame Desplat was so much better directing the orchestra than Clooney was at directing this picture.

Clooney is obviously a fan of the Coen brothers style (he’s been in four of their movies); but the Coens aren’t even making movies like they used to. Two foreign films, Headhunters (out of Norway) and The Square (out of Australia), were better than anything the Coen’s have done in years. Clooney should look at those films before he attempts another movie in this style.

My wife and I both shook our heads as we left the screening of this. It was such a disappointment.

It gets 1 ½ stars out of 5, and would’ve gotten less if Oscar Isaac wasn’t in it.