A baffling misstep from director Clooney.
* * 1/2
George Clooney’s sixth feature as a director, Suburbicon is an unsatisfying movie. Adapted by Clooney and his longtime professional partner Grant Heslov from a Coen Brothers script, it attempts to be a black comedy noir, a satire of 50s/60s-era United States suburbia, and a statement on US race. It only succeeds at pulling off the first, and even then, only just, without much aplomb.
The noir plot feels very, very much like early Coen Brothers, and, as it turns out, that’s what it is – their screenplay has been dated to 1986. They’ve surpassed themselves many times over since then, and this story feels like a draft of their future abilities, an exercise, or at the very least an obviously nascent work. Themes that continued to intrigue them are here in abundance and character types they love are present in basic, unshaded form, but they themselves have done this type of stuff so much better since, and often. The obvious (and very thematically similar) masterpiece is Fargo, which has now inspired three seasons of an homage/pastiche television show; The Man Who Wasn’t There also may have drawn some of its characters from the draft versions present here. Ultimately, this part of the film – and this is the part that sort of works – feels, at its best, stale and redundant.
Worse – much worse – the racial story is incredibly, sloppily undercooked. The motivations of black families moving to all-white suburban enclaves, and the organised tactics used to drive them away, is fascinating and rich fodder for its own movie. Unfortunately, shoehorned around the edges of the main story as it is here, this emotionally and historically weighty element is hurried and simplistic, coming off as exploitative and cheap. Clooney is a political man, and has directed at least two movies which are directly political (and good), so his almost childish attempt at a statement here is simply baffling. This entire strand should have been left on the cutting room floor, for it simply and blatantly does not work. That would have left a pretty brief movie, but it may at least have been fun, if redundant; Suburbicon’s flaws ruin the fun.
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