George Clooney, the director, has made a few outstanding films. Good Night, And Good Luck likely is his lone masterpiece, but Clooney has stirred difficult pots to impressive effect in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and the political potboiler The Ides of March. Suburbicon will not be remembered as one of Clooney's good efforts. In fact, at times it's shockingly bad how tone-deaf, vulgar and ill-timed this mash-up of conflicting storylines ends up being. It's a disappointment on multiple levels.
The backstory on Suburbicon -- which plays as part of the Toronto International Film Festival -- is that it once existed as a Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay, one that sat in a drawer for decades because the brothers couldn't crack the script. Well, neither could George Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov, who get co-scripting credits alongside the Coens. You can see the fingerprints of the Coens' dark, slapstick humor in parts of Suburbicon... but you also can see why they abandoned the project and probably deemed it as unfilmable.
My mouth actually hung open in shock as Clooney gets Suburbicon underway. Set in an idyllic suburban neighborhood of the 1950s (think Leave it to Beaver on steroids), the drama unearths its first conflict when a black family moves into a white neighborhood, and the citizens are outraged. This situation might have been played for uncomfortable laughs before recent incidents in Charlottesville, but thanks to current headlines, Suburbicon drops an awkward grenade into a difficult conversation on race.
Across the street from this innocent family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) has gotten himself into trouble with some oily bookies. At least, I think that's the case. Suburbicon keeps the details of Gardner's money problems close to the vest, which makes it difficult to care when this man's family -- his kid (Noah Jupe), his wife and her twin sister (both played by a game Julianne Moore) -- start to die in comically Coen fashion.
The point of Suburbicon is that while a neighborhood turns on an innocent family because of the color of their skin, they are ignoring the atrocities conducted by a truly evil family, just because they're white. That's it. It's the simplest of life-lessons, yet Suburbicon hammers us over the head as if its trying to teach us a complicated algorithm from hit elevated pedestal. The tone of Suburbicon veers wildly, providing a few dark laughs but generally staying to straight you can't quite believe what its attempting in the guise of dark satire. At times, Suburbicon flirts with saying something important and unconventional about race, family strife, or the state of the modern neighborhood.
Suburbicon is bad. It's bad in a way that you wonder after how anyone let it get this bad. The rumor is that George Clooney tried to marry two different scripts together, but he had to see that they didn't fit, no matter how it's stitched. The movie has a pulse for approximately 5 minutes -- and they are the complete five minutes that the always brilliant Oscar Isaac, playing an insurance claims investigator, swings by to announce that this whole scheme stinks. He couldn't be more correct.