“Suburbicon” brings George Clooney back behind the camera

On paper, few 2017 releases should be safer Academy Award plays than Suburbicon. After all, it has George Clooney behind the camera, the Coen Brothers co-writing, as well as Matt Damon and Julianne Moore in starring roles. Throw in a supporting turn from Oscar Isaac and the ingredients are all there for something irresistible. And yet, this is one of the year’s more disappointing films. It opens in theaters this week and will hope to reverse the at best mixed buzz that has followed the flick on the fall festival circuit. There’s ambition on display here, though unfortunately it just never comes together in a satisfying way.

A period piece satire, set in the utopian style community of Suburbicon, we see two events shape the entire community. One is the arrival of the first African American family into the town, while the other is a home invasion. The Meyers family has brought out all of the ugly sensibilities in the town, though the Lodge family has bigger concerns. Gardner (Damon) has had his house broken into, in the process leading to the death of his wife (Moore). Quickly though, he seems happy to be spending time with his wife’s twin sister (also Moore), something that disturbs his son Nicky (Noah Jupe). How this involves the home invaders, an insurance investigator (Isaac), and other such characters, I’ll let you see for yourself. Clooney directs and co-writes with his partner Grant Heslov, along with Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. The cast also includes Gary Basaraba, Leith M. Burke, Jack Conley, Glenn Fleshler, Karimah Westbrook, and more. Alexandre Desplat contributes the score, while cinematography is by the great Robert Elswit.

The movie is really two different projects in one, though unfortunately neither are effective or entertaining. Clooney never makes the thriller aspect rise above mediocrity, while the racial plot is so shortchanged it boggles the mind. Isaac is amazing in his small role (it makes perfect sense why the Coen Brothers wanted Clooney to play that role when they were still on board to direct), while Damon and Moore are reliably solid, but they can’t raise the game. The visuals are strong, but this fails on a screenplay level. The Coens and their sensibilities just don’t mesh with Clooney’s. Sometimes, a team up like this produces great results. This just wasn’t one of those occasions.

Here is how I would rank Clooney’s directorial efforts:

6. Suburbicon
5. Leatherheads
4. The Monuments Men
3. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
2. The Ides of March
1. Good Night and Good Luck.

Awards now seem like a long shot for Suburbicon. Still, a robust campaign from Paramount could remain in order. Categories like Best Picture, Best Director (for Clooney), Best Actor (for Damon), Best Supporting Actor (for Isaac), Best Supporting Actress (for Moore), Best Original Screenplay (for the Coens, Clooney, and Heslov), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. None of the majors seem likely, aside from possibly Isaac in Supporting Actor, but don’t bet on that. If anything happens, it’ll be something like Production Design. If I was a betting man though, I’d bet on a shutout.

On Friday, audiences can see Clooney’s latest work behind the camera when Suburbicon opens. There will be fans of the picture out there, no doubt about it, but it didn’t work for me at all. Aside from Isaac’s brief turn, it’s just incredibly forgettable. The film could have been a massive Oscar player, but now the aforementioned shutout seems the likeliest outcome. Still, if you’re curious, you should see it for yourself. Clooney has made good ones as a filmmaker before and will make good ones again, so this is just a rare misfire from the man. It happens, sad as it is to witness…

Be sure to check out Suburbicon, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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