Smart and talented people who are aware of the fact that they are smart and talented sometimes have difficulty separating good ideas from the really, really bad ones. In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte, one of history’s greatest military minds, assembled the largest army to date to invade Russia, partially to ensure strategic dominance of Europe but in no small part out of spite. Later that year, he fled Moscow with his tail between his legs and half of the troops he’d arrived with—the other half had deserted him or died of starvation and cold. In 1969, guitar legend and studio innovator Jimmy Page took “Heartbreaker,” a solid, swaggering track off of the Led Zeppelin II album that was already in the can, and decided that the thing it was missing was an unaccompanied, aimless, sloppy, tonally uneven noodlefest of a solo dead in the middle.
R, 105 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX and Violet Crown Cinema
Now in 2017, award-winning filmmaker George Clooney delivers Suburbicon, an unproduced screenplay from the Coen brothers written in 1986, before they were the masters of the craft they are today. Clooney and creative partner Grant Heslov, intelligent and thoughtful storytellers in their own right, have delivered a half-cocked stylistic aping of the Coens’ famously elastic-looking comedies while expecting to capture the same anarchic magic found in Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy or Burn After Reading. But as much as Clooney appears at home in a Coen production—he delivers pitch-perfect performances in Intolerable Cruelty, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Hail, Caesar!—his cinematic impression of their aesthetic is simply not engaging as entertainment or a civic-minded thinkpiece, nor does it appear to have been particularly fun to make. The whole thing is a waste of everybody’s time and talent.
The eponymous Suburbicon is a picturesque development in the 1950s, which is introduced by way of an exaggerated PSA. We are told of the safety, strong sense of community and diversity of its population—white people from New York, white people from Ohio and white people from Mississippi. Everything is blissful until it is discovered that the new neighbors, the Meyers family, are black. The town rallies, signs petitions and begins a campaign of harassment and terror to drive them out, while televisions and radios broadcast actual interviews from the day demonstrating how brazenly racist those who attempted to defend their civil rights against integration really were. While they go on about the right to live with who they want and how they’re not racist, the n-word is barely two sentences away at any given moment.
That, however, is not the plot. Seriously. The entire narrative centers around the repercussions of a home invasion suffered by Gordon Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family, in which his wife (Julianne Moore) is killed. Before too long, her sister (also Julianne Moore), well, let’s not spoil it here—if you’ve ever seen any other movie in your life, you know what’s coming next. The trailers and official plot summaries try to sell this as a story of a regular man lashing out against the mob, but whoever came up with that must have fallen asleep in the first five minutes of the movie.
The increasing indignities suffered by the Haynes family are meant as juxtaposition for the actual crime next door, which has broken out into violence, conspiracy, murder and fraud. While the residents of Suburbicon cannot abide the presence of peaceful, gainfully employed African- Americans in their midst, they are blind to the real threat. This would be fine, and carries a worthwhile message, except the Meyers family is reduced to plot foils by the predictable nonsense transpiring in the Lodge home.
Clooney has chosen his cast wisely, and everyone commits to his or her role, however big or small. A few scenes show the occasional spark of genuine inspiration, such as the attempts by Gordon’s boss to empathize following his wife’s murder, or the delightful appearance by Oscar Isaac as a suspicious claims investigator. The scene between Isaac and Moore in particular has enough energy to have been its own one-act play. But, that’s about as much positivity that can be mustered for this misfire.
Just don’t see Suburbicon. Nothing about it works. It’s not funny, has no insight into its own subject matter, focuses on the wrong plot, is stylistically vapid and should have been left unmade as it had been for 31 years. The Coens have moved forward with their careers in terms of maturity and sophistication. Clooney should do the same.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
A Bad Moms Christmas, Blade Runner 2049, Jigsaw
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
A Bad Moms Christmas, American Made, Blade Runner 2049, Boo 2!: A Madea Halloween, The Foreigner, Geostorm, Happy Death Day, Jigsaw, IT, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Marshall, The Mountain Between Us, Only the Brave, Same Kind of Different As Me, The Snowman, Thank You For Your Service
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Battle of the Sexes, Blade Runner 2049, Breathe, The Foreigner, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Loving Vincent, Marshall, The Snowman