Hollywood megastar George Clooney has a pretty awful track record when it comes to taking turns in the director's chair — 2011's sleepy political thriller The Ides of March, 2008 period piece dramedy Leatherheads) — and now he has another stinker to add to the list with Suburbicon, a surreal drama about class and white privilege that's incoherent at its worst and boring at best.
Famous friend Matt Damon plays Gardner Lodge, a father living an idyllic life in suburban America who crafts an elaborate, though poorly thought-out scheme to have his wife (Julianne Moore) murdered by two thugs, and have her twin sister (also Moore) take her place.
At the same time, the Meyers — a young black family — move to the community and don't receive the warmest of welcomes. Petitions are signed, fences are erected and, in a weirdly prescient move, white folks (mostly angry men with nothing better to do) take to their property limits with torches, rocks and confederate flags. The cops are so busy trying to control the scene they don't notice the cover-up Gardner is enacting, and its dangerous repercussions, a block away.
Joel and Ethan Coen's names can be found in the film's writing credits, but Clooney's famous friends — including Inside Llewyn Davis's Oscar Isaac, who makes a too-short appearance that almost makes up for the film's convoluted first half — can't make this half-baked social critique enjoyable. Instead, it relies on tired old tricks (Clooney, evidently, has studied the greats; some of the film's most strikingly scenes are Hitchcockian in nature), even from its creators (the final act's haphazard violence won't seem out of place to any fans of Fargo), to try and milk some tension, but it just doesn't work. Neither does the film's double narrative, a technique meant to highlight the contrasting social structures that ends up feeling clumsy.
There's no doubt the topics tackled in Suburbicon are worth exploring in cinema, but Clooney isn't the right person for that job.