Clooney's "Suburbicon" Isn't As Bad As You've Heard - It's Much Worse

“Suburbicon” is Hollywood luminary George Clooney’s sixth film as a director. It plays like he’s never set foot on a studio lot.

An uncharacteristically limp screenplay from the Coen brothers – one they penned over thirty years ago – is a cruel starting point. But Clooney, who rewrote the script with creative partner Grant Heslov, bungles his would-be social satire every which way. What might have been a breezy takedown of segregation in post-World War II America ends up an unfocused, unfunny clutter whose level of comorbidities is off the charts. Nothing in it works, not the gimme murder mystery intrigue, not even a plucky Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) who goes to waste in an extended cameo that inadvertently doubles as a spotlight on the pic’s pitiable pacing.

Matt Damon headlines as Gardner Lodge, the head of a family whose existence is defined by their perfectly groomed, all-white neighborhood. Tumult comes to the self-congratulatory air of Suburbicon in the form of a black family moving in – and then an entirely unrelated home invasion that strips Gardner and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe) of their wife and mother, Rose (Julianne Moore). Luckily, the Lodge family has a matriarch to spare: Rose’s sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore). Much to Nicky’s chagrin, Margaret slots in comfortably as a replacement to her late sister, raising suspicions of insurance fraud.

Curiously, the film is ceaselessly confused as to its protagonist. It’s not Gardner, a toxic puddle of a man who exists in the margins of the film until his actions are required to drive the narrative forward. It’s not the black father (Leith M. Burke), mother (Karimah Westbrook), or son (Tony Espinosa) whose skin color raises so much ire in their new neighborhood. (They’re used awkwardly as an ignition point and then a backdrop to the Lodge’s story.) And it’s definitely neither of Moore’s characters, the actress given precious little time to differentiate the sisters before Rose is killed by two hitmen.

Nicky is the closest Clooney comes to pinpointing a lead, but the boy isn’t onscreen enough – or given ample characterization outside of his relationship with his loving uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) – to qualify as a central figure. Consequently, scene after scene dies on the vine, a trend that becomes law, depriving viewers of anyone or anything to latch on to. We’re left with no choice but to sink further and further into Clooney’s quicksand of clunky moralizing, bitter violence, and gauche visual stylings.

The feeling at the outset of “Suburbicon” – that despite the ubiquity of digital projection, some dastardly movie theater lemming has played the film out of order – never really fades. After thirty long minutes, it sets in that this is, from head to tail, a conflagration of storytelling and tone, a film whose badness isn’t much worth discussing let alone enduring, and maybe even a career low for the man who starred in “Batman & Robin.” Call it a must-miss.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: October 27, 2017
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: George Clooney
Screenwriter: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac, Gary Basaraba, Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke, Tony Espinosa, Alex Hassell, Glenn Fleshler
MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality)