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Clooney’s ‘Suburbicon’ Rages Against ’50s America

The Coen brothers love dumb criminals. George Clooney apparently loathes the suburbs.

Those two philosophies collide in “Suburbicon,” the second oddest movie of the year. (Top prize goes to “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” the tale of two lousy parents who inspired a beloved children’s book series while crushing their son’s soul).

Clooney’s latest directorial misfire fuses an actual tragedy with a classically Coen farce. The brothers penned the original script decades ago only to abandon it. Good instinct. Clooney and creative partner Grant Heslov took the dusty script and added a racially-charged incident.

Why?

It’s hard to say exactly. The film throbs with hatred for 1950s suburbia, no doubt. And maybe the 2017 version, to hear Clooney’s recent press musings.

The racism on full display is underlined, highlighted and cast in bold type. Just try missing it. We dare you. Beyond that? Maybe it’s Clooney’s confession that he’s better off in front of the camera, not behind it.

“Suburbicon” starts with sizzle and snap. We’re thrust back into the candy-colored ‘50s, a time when Suburban USA took root across the heartland.

Only the color of the average flyover hamlet was decidedly pale. And residents made sure it stayed that way. When an attractive black couple (Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke) moves into the well manicured Suburbicon community all hell breaks loose.

That’s Story One.

The second narrative begins when thugs invade the home of mild-mannered Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon). Gardner keeps his family calm during the break-in, but the hoods accidentally give his wife (Julianne Moore) too much chloroform.

She dies, but her twin sister (also Moore!) bravely takes her place by Gardner’s side while the family mourns.

Only there’s something odd about Gardner’s reaction to these tragic events. Anyone who can’t see what’s coming next must be brand spanking new to movie watching.

But that’s not the biggest problem here.

RELATED: Does George Clooney Have a Diversity Problem?

Clooney’s film is mesmerizing during these early sequences. He’s got our undivided attention even while the oh, so obvious twists unwind.

The issue starts with Gardner. Who is he? What’s he got up his sleeve? And why is he so impossibly distant from his adorable son (an effective Noah Jupe)?

Clooney has little time for the critical questions. He’s too busy embracing all the right ’50s tropes, from the impressive set design to the stylized patter. Kudos to the casting team for nailing the supporting characters.

It’s like they jumped right out of a time capsule.

The director also wags his finger at the period’s racism so hard you expected a digit to fly off, 3D style, right out of the screen.

Meanwhile, he’s can’t be bothered to explain much of what transpires in the third act.

FAST FACT: The real-life black couple targeted by racist white homeowners in Levittown, Pa. in 1957, a story that inspired Clooney to make “Suburbicon,” endured a burning cross on their property during the height of the harassment.

The Coens excel at crafting losers in well over their heads. They repeated that theme via the third season of FX’s “Fargo.” To paraphrase a certain 007 song, nobody does it better.

That nimble touch is missing here. That leaves Clooney to fall back on his broad comic styling. So where’s the structure to hold it all together?

Oscar Isaac appears mid-movie as a skeptical insurance agent, and the movie roars back to life for a spell. Sadly, his character arc is just as disappointing as the film’s calamitous third act.

The Coens excel at crafting losers in well over their headsClick To Tweet

“Suburbicon” never justifies combining the screenplay’s two critical plots. Neither gets enough attention, something darn near criminal when it comes to the black couple at the heart of the neighborhood bedlam. Couldn’t the film give the male black neighbor some dialogue?

Just a single line, perhaps?

“Suburbicon” is the umpteenth film to show the dark underbelly of suburban life. When you’re trawling through such a thicket you darn well better offer a fresh angle.

Clooney and co. start strong but come up empty.

HiT or Miss: George Clooney’s “Suburbicon” dazzles in short bursts but otherwise reminds us his directorial chops remain overhyped.

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18 Comments

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  1. “FAST FACT: The real-life black couple targeted by racist white homeowners in Levittown, Pa. in 1957, a story that inspired Clooney to make “Suburbicon,” endured a burning cross on their property during the height of the harassment.”

    Welp, white people in “black neighborhoods”, or in once-white neighborhoods that blacks later infested, have been robbed, raped, murdered…….How many cities, neighborhoods, schools have blacks ruined?

      1. Not buying it. Plenty of Democratic, and some even Socialist (Milwaukee the main one, but many others)Party-controlled cities ran just fine, as long as they were mostly/all white.

        I personally don’t believe socialism works in the long run, and I think that modern Dem policies are insane, and I agree with anyone who points to past Dem policies as not good in one respect or another. But it’s a racial thing-like it or not.

        1. And yet, black people managed to not have record-high levels of poverty or crime until after the Democrats incentivized them to have fatherless families in the ’60s. And Rudy Giuliani somehow managed to clean up New York City without kicking out the blacks.

          This country doesn’t have a black problem. It has a values and Democrat policy problem disguised as a racial problem.

          1. Wrong, but even if I play along with your fantasy-there’s this:A truly moral and religious people wouldn’t have taken LBJ’s offer.

            And anyway, the fantasy is all BS–pre LBJ–they had 25-30% bastardy rates-equal to 2017 white rates, which are terrible. But many more black men who were married when the kid was born deserted afterward back in the day-not illegitimate per se but same result. MLK in 1957 (pre LBJ) admitted blacks had 8 times the illegitimacy rate of whites.

            As for crime-give me a break. The law came down hard back then on anyone committing crime which kept them in line somewhat but they were the same.

          2. Obviously, one headline from one city in one year, can be extrapolated to an entire ethnic group over the course of the entire nation’s history. That’s just common sense.

          3. So sarcasm is unacceptable, but repeated childish name-calling is the height of discourse. Got it.

            Have fun playing with your tiki torches, alt-righty boy.

  2. Clooney directed one good movie: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a genuinely well-made Cold War black comedy that benefited greatly from Sam Rockwell’s excellent lead performance. Based on this, he assumed he was some kind of auteur, and his movies have been unwatchable, pretentious messes ever since. I would recommend that he stick to acting, but his acting’s not much better than his directing.

  3. Wasn’t Damon and Clooney a couple of the last to come out against perv Harvey. I think they “denounced” without saying his name.
    Take your crappy movie and shove it. Coen Bros haven’t had a cohesive watchable flick in ages.

  4. I was born in the 1950s and spent that and the establishment years of the 1960s as a child. The 1950s culture sure worked for me.

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