Like those talented pop singers who keep making valiant stabs at being actors — and vice versa — George Clooney can’t seem to stay away from the director’s chair. His filmmaking career started promisingly enough with “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (helped greatly by its Charlie Kaufman screenplay), but since then it’s been a parade of adequacies (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Ides of March”), mediocrity (“Leatherheads”) and downright catastrophe (“The Monuments Men”).
Clooney’s directorial legacy won’t get any help from “Suburbicon,” a garish and overblown crime melodrama that combines clumsy noir with lame jabs at 1950s suburban conformity and racism, two subjects whose satirical sell-by date are now decades past. (Is racism in the United States as toxic as ever? Absolutely. Is pointing out the existence of racism in the gleaming Eisenhower era the stuff of dramatic counterpoint or groundbreaking observation? Nope.) Written by Joel and Ethan Coen and Clooney and Grant Heslov, the film veers back and forth between the obvious and the ridiculous.
In the quaint mid-century planned community Suburbicon, the white residents have a collective meltdown when the first black family moves into the house next door to the Lodges. But the Lodges have problems of their own: Home intruders show up in the middle of the night, tying up Gardner (Matt Damon), his wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore), their young son Nicky (Noah Jupe, “The Night Manager”) and Rose’s sister Maggie (also Moore — shades of her early work as twins on “As the World Turns”).
The robbers chloroform the family, but they go heavy enough on it for Rose that she winds up dying. Maggie sticks around to help out with Nicky, but the kid grows suspicious when the robbers turn up in a police lineup and Gardner and Maggie pretend not to recognize them. Gardner and Maggie, it turns out, have clumsily killed Rose for the insurance money, but loan sharks want it — assuming that there’s even a payout, since claims investigator Roger (Oscar Isaac) smells a big, fat rat.
There are plenty of ways that “Suburbicon” could have gone to have fun with this premise, but it chooses none of them — or, rather, it chooses all of them simultaneously and the mix never works. If the movie is intended to be a black comedy about an incompetent crime, then the ugly scenes of racism don’t fit. If it’s supposed to be a nightmarish tale of a child who knows something terrible but has no one who will believe him — think “The Fallen Idol” or “Parents” — Gardner’s crime is so sloppy and so quick to fall apart that the movie never builds upon the kind of tension necessary to tell that story.
And if it’s supposed to be a will-they-get-away-with-it crime drama, that evaporates once people get fireplace-pokered to death in the middle of the street and fire trucks start exploding. It’s all too much in too many directions, and the result is a mess, albeit an exquisitely art-directed one.
The name actors here commit themselves to their roles, despite the fact they all seem to be in different movies. (There is a nice bit of cat-and-mouse between Roger and Maggie, as he gets her to say more than she should about her poor sister’s “accident.”) Top honors go to young Jupe, who faces tragedy and terror, registering it all in his very expressive eyes.
The production design by James D. Bissell (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) nails the era without getting too cartoonish about it. There’s a tendency for movies set in the post-WWII boom to go crazy with the kidney-shaped coffee tables and the starburst light fixtures, but he lets the post-war design elements come out in little details like the coffee cups, the cocktail tumblers and Maggie’s checkout-girl uniform.
Composer Alexandre Desplat channels Bernard Herrmann as hard as he can to provide this movie with some genuinely suspenseful underpinnings, but the music winds up offering far more than the film can handle.
Just about everyone involved with “Suburbicon” has done and, one hopes, will do better. But here they’ve given us a mish-mosh of genres that should have been abandoned at the city limits.
The Evolution of Matt Damon From 'Mystic Pizza' to 'Downsizing' (Photos)
Matt Damon was just 18 when he made his movie debut with a small role in 1988's "Mystic Pizza," which was also the second feature of Julia Roberts.
In 1992's "School Ties," Damon played a prep school bully who antagonized a Jewish student played by Brendan Fraser in a naked shower room fight.
Damon grew a peculiar, Ethan Hawke-like goatee for his role as Lt. Britton Davis in 1993's "Geronimo: An American Legend."
Damon played a drug-addled Gulf War veteran opposite Meg Ryan in 1996's "Courage Under Fire."
For the "Courage Under Fire" role, Damon famously dropped 40 pounds off his already thin frame -- without a doctor's supervision.
Damon was back in fitter, hotter form in the 1997 John Grisham adaptation of "The Rainmaker."
Damon and his childhood buddy Ben Affleck co-wrote the script for 1997's "Good Will Hunting," and the two starred opposite Robin Williams.
Affleck and Damon won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "Good Will Hunting," delivering a memorably enthusiastic speech at the podium. (He was also nominated for Best Actor.)
In 1998's "Rounders," Damon had an unfortunate blond dye job to play a law student struggling with a poker addiction opposite Edward Norton.
Damon played the title character in Steven Spielberg's 1998 WWII epic "Saving Private Ryan."
In 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," Damon was a creepily seductive sociopath who pined for Jude Law's trust fund lifestyle (and his body). Damon's wasn't so shabby either, despite the bright yellow bathing suit.
Damon teamed with George Clooney and Brad Pitt for the first time in the star-studded 2000 caper "Ocean's Eleven," which spawned two sequels.
In 2001, Damon reteamed with Ben Affleck to executive produce "Project Greenlight," a reality series that aired on HBO and chronicled the making of an indie film.
In 2002, Damon showed surprising action-hero moves as a trained government agent with amnesia in 2002's "The Bourne Identity."
Damon had an uncharacteristic punkish look (including a shaved head) in a cameo in 2004's "EuroTrip." He played the lead singer of a band whose main song, "Scotty Doesn't Know," reveals that Damon's been banging the longtime girlfriend of the movie's high school grad lead. Foreshadowing of his later Jimmy Kimmel stunt?
On December 9, 2005, Damon married Luciana Barroso, an Argentine-born woman he met while she was bartending in a Miami nightclub. (Two days later, they were together at the New York City premiere of "The Good Shepherd.")
He was back in fighting form in 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum" -- which looked like it might be the final installment in the franchise.
In 2007, People Magazine named the self-described "aging suburban dad" the Sexiest Man Alive.
Damon has long been the affectionate target of ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who ended his show with apologies for running out of time for the actor. But Damon turned the tables in 2008 when Kimmel's then-girlfriend Sarah Silverman introduced a videotaped song declaring, "I'm F---ing Matt Damon."
Damon packed on 20 to 30 extra pounds to play a schlubby corporate whistleblower in Steven Soderbergh's 2009 comedy "The Informant!"
Damon earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor portraying the captain of South Africa's championship 1995 rugby team in 2009's "Invictus."
Starting in 2010, Damon had a recurring role on "30 Rock" as an airline pilot named Carol who tried to woo Tina Fey's TV exec Liz Lemon.
Damon got buff (and tatted) to play a paroled car thief fighting to survive in a dystopian future in Neill Blomkamp's 2013 sci-fi movie "Elysium."
Damon earned an Emmy nomination for the 2013 HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra," camping it up as the much-younger boyfriend of the flamboyant pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas).
Damon earned his third acting Oscar nomination for Ridley Scott's 2015 space drama "The Martian" -- playing solo for much of the film as an astronaut stranded on the red planet.
After nine years, Damon returned as "Jason Bourne" in his fourth installment in the action franchise.
Damon stumbled with a big-budget dud -- and a freaky ponytail -- in Zhang Yimou's 2017 fantasy epic "The Great Wall."
Damon reteamed with director George Clooney for the 2017 period drama set in an all-white suburb in 1959.
In Alexander Payne's high-concept 2017 movie "Downsizing," Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play a couple who decide to shrink themselves -- literally -- to live in a more affordable micro-world.
1 of 31
The actor has changed remarkably through the years, from his first film role to his work in the Bourne franchise