Seeing the names Joel and Ethan Coen attached to a film is an instant cause for excitement — place George Clooney in the director’s chair and you’d be lying to yourself if Suburbicon weren’t high on your list this festival season. Clooney behind the camera is comfortable and clean cut, perhaps too subdued for a script that unfolds in an explosive, messy display of tonal confusion and narrative scarcity.
Indeed it is a few misfires away from being a disaster. There’s a constant struggle between the two plots, involving Matt Damon as Gardner, the seemingly no nonsense suburban father who ends up on the wrong side of a home invasion. He manages to become so despicable by the end that you will begin looking at characters of Coen brothers past in a kinder light. Expect fraud, murder, in-your-face racism and Julianne Moore beginning her turn with a neat role that runs sadistic as the horror and black comedy dance around each other.
In a different timeline, this would have garnered a whirlwind of praise as an A-list counter attack on Trump’s America — a poignant shocker to ignite conversation and force us to ponder difficult truths.
Unfortunately, solid performances and a score that frequently splashes through the screen and ravages the nerves cannot carry Clooney’s deeply confused picture. Its very fabric is broken. Peppered between the segments involving Gardner’s self destruction and treachery is a jarring dialogue on the violent racism surrounding America in the 1950s — and still today — focusing on the Myers family, who met with the worst side of white supremacy and ignorance in Levittown, Pennsylvania decades ago.
In a different timeline, this would have garnered a whirlwind of praise as an A-list counter attack on Trump’s America — a poignant shocker to ignite conversation and force us to ponder difficult truths. However, this not-so-fictional retelling of a sordid past is rife with error, feeling insincere and garish in tone, incapable of uniting its message with facetious, interpersonal violence among the characters involved in Suburbicon’s central plot.
It’s hard to accept the truth about Clooney’s partnership with the Coen brothers, returning to the point that it will always be an exciting prospect. What with Clooney’s consistent filmography as director and the Coen’s who have brought us as much life and character into the world of cinema as any other great filmmakers. This misstep shows faint moments of genius — a hilarious, brutally entertaining Oscar Isaac as a demented yet charismatic fraud investigator comes to mind. The violence is unexpected and often fused with apt comedic timing, leading to sporadic heights and adrenalized laughs. Moments like these defined past winners we’ve seen from the team behind Suburbicon, from Fargo to Burn After Reading; there are pieces of a good film somewhere behind the loud audacity of two narrative halves in friction. They become lost in the final cut, flickering by and drowning in the mud.