Why can’t George Clooney make a movie that’s “simple”?  I don’t mean “simple” as in unremarkable quality, but “simple” as in accessible entertainment.

When he’s in the director’s chair, Clooney usually has a distinct goal to be indistinctive;  to not cater to or settle on a specific genre.  It’s no different in Suburbicon.  His latest work has been marketed as a dark comedy, yet Clooney’s screwball sense of humour and playful ribbing of the late 50s grinds against the Coen Brothers’ sardonic script.  This round-hole-square-peg equation amounts in frequent confusion towards the tone of Suburbicon, even though most of the jokes still work courtesy of Clooney’s cast.  A good example is the contrast between “the ideal family” being torn apart by mobsters and unpaid debt, and their neighbours who are experiencing outrageous racism from their community.  It’s a hard switch from laughter to reflecting on a dark reminder and vice versa.

That’s not to say Suburbicon’s working parts are also faulty.  Award-winning composer Alexandre Desalt gifts the film with a wonderful score that pokes fun at dramatic stings, and then uses these musical jokes in favour of the suspense.  The same can be said for Robert Elswit’s cinematography – which also plays towards tradition before tipping the scale towards the rules of campy film noir – or the amusingly off-kilter performances by Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac.

Suburbicon is a solid shifty thriller, but it’s also a self-conscious film;  it’s very careful that its period detail, the straight-faced comedy, and any twists have to be bang-on.  These final decisions are ultimately made by the director, which means Clooney technically receives a passing grade.  However, while these individual elements can afford to be experimental, a director has to know how to hone them to make a comprehensive movie – Clooney is still solving that puzzle.

Suburbicon is fine, but if George Clooney wants to gain consistency as a filmmaker, decisiveness is imperative.


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