George Clooney has made a solid career for himself as a director. He has a few critically acclaimed films (Good Night and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) under his belt. I also enjoyed Leatherheads and The Monuments Men, which both received a less-than-enthusiastic response from many critics. So it pains me to say that Suburbicon is a misfire.
Clooney and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov updated a decades-old Coen Brothers script set in 1950s small-town America. Matt Damon is living with his paralyzed wife (Julianne Moore) and son (Noah Jupe). Damon’s sister-in-law (also Julianne Moore) is a frequent visitor. But one night, there is a home invasion that leaves Damon’s wife dead. Soon, it becomes clear that there’s more to the case than a burglary gone wrong.
Among all of this is a subplot about the first African-American family to move into Suburbicon. The subplot seems like it belongs in an entirely different movie. It doesn’t fit into the main story and the minority characters have no traits other than put-upon decency.
Unfortunately, the main plot has its problems, too. Sometimes, when an accomplished filmmaker has a decades-old script that he hasn’t made, there’s a good reason for that. One of Woody Allen’s weakest films is 2009’s Whatever Works, which was also from a decades-old script that got dusted off and put into production. Suburbicon feels like a rehash of elements of other, better Coen Bros. films like Fargo and Blood Simple. But Suburbicon doesn’t have the cleverness of Blood Simple or the soul that Frances McDormand brought to Fargo.
The bright spots of the film are Jupe’s strong performance as Damon’s son and the always entertaining Oscar Isaac’s too-brief role as an insurance claims investigator. They aren’t enough to sustain the rest, which is an ugly mess.