SUBURBICON has become the focus of much recent attention for doing Paramount's worst wide-release box office business, ever. The surprising element in this is not the movie's poor performance; rather, it's the confounding fact that Paramount put it in a position to fail as dramatically as it has. Who could have possibly thought that an allegorical thriller, suffused with racism and terrible violence and set in the 1950s — even starring Matt Damon — would win over the date-night crowd or the bored weekenders? Maybe the same person who, having seen the movie, commissioned a trailer that recast the thing as a dark comedy scored by DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels. Blame the studio for mishandling the movie, rather than the movie for mishandling the material.
I've been ambivalent about some of George Clooney's directorial efforts, sure. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), his debut behind the camera, set a high standard, with a customarily brilliant script by Charlie Kaufman and a delicious surfeit of style and detail. It also established some themes that have carried through: the mendacity of men in positions of power; the tendency of the world toward organized betrayal; and, ultimately, the importance of integrity, and of acting on it even in times of great challenge. The problem is Clooney's movies have addressed these themes with mixed success, though they have rarely failed from an esthetic standpoint. Their shortcomings more often are screenplays insistent on addressing that thematic material, rather than advancing a story. Good Night and Good Luck (2005), for its still-frame photographic gorgeousness, is a prime example, as is The Ides of March (2011). Placed in the context of the director's body work, Suburbicon becomes even more difficult to parse. It is a dark movie for darker times — the script, co-written by Clooney, longtime collaborator Grant Heslov and Joel and Ethan Coen, harkens back to some of the Coens' bleakest, most misanthropic work — heavy on style and even heavier on Message, that could easily be seen as muddled or overworked. For me, the elements combine quite well, resulting in a troubling, resonant, relevant movie worth revisiting. It has its flaws, and is certainly not for all tastes, but it is ambitious and artful, and overall more successful than not.
Into 1959 Suburbicon — a Levittown-style suburban utopia, so basically a living hell — moves the Mayers family. This proves problematic because the Mayerses are black. Town hall meetings are called to order, florid white men scream nonsense in unison and eventually a fence is erected on the perimeter of the Mayerses' property. As events more central to the movie's story play out, said fence is increasingly lined by hateful, drum-beating neighbors attempting to drive the new family out.
Next door, the Lodge family, opting out of the neighborhood's actions, undergoes its own maelstrom of chaos and violence. Rose (Julianne Moore), sickly and confined to a wheelchair, is assisted in the day-to-day by identical twin sister Margaret (Moore again). Gardner (Damon), a vaguely important financial executive, barely keeps it together. He has squandered the household finances, in the process incurring significant debt to some unsavory characters. Two of these characters come into the Lodge home one night, tie up the family, including young Nicky (Noah Jupe), who becomes our lens for narrative, and begin a cycle of violence that, by the end, will become almost all-consuming.
Some will say the allegorical aspects of Suburbicon are forced or heavy-handed. I would counter that they are, for their heavy-handedness, an appropriate reaction to an unbelievably divisive, historically ham-fisted time in our history. Clooney, Heslov and the Coens have created here the type of imagined reality to which MAGA dipshits seem so anxious to return. It is a heightened reality, to be sure, where a vacuum of kindness and empathy creates a hospitable environment for avarice and race-hate. There is nothing great about this version of America, except the hope that youth will buck its trends and see kinship instead of otherness. Maybe it just suits my mood. And like all of Clooney's movies, it is a pretty thing to look at, even in its moments of extreme ugliness. Its created world, with its style of mid-century mundanity, all right angles and short-sleeved shirts with ties, is richly captured by Robert Elswit's cinematography and subtly underlined by Alexander Desplat's score. It is a difficult, imperfect work and I enjoyed it. R. 105m. BROADWAY.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. Written and directed by Jason Hall, who adapted the screenplay for American Sniper, details the attempted return to normalcy of multiple Iraq tour soldiers rotating back to the world. At the center of the story stands Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), a sergeant who holds himself responsible for the death of one of his men and the grievous injury of another. His best friend and squad-mate, Solo (Beulah Koale), has suffered a subtle but devastating brain injury that leaves him unable to contend with civilian life but unfit for military service. As each tries to navigate the difficult world of life in general and the department of Veteran's Affairs in particular, it becomes clear they need more help in healing than is readily available. Thank You takes on an ever-more important topic of discussion, and does so with some aplomb and the help of an excellent cast. Overall, though, it never quite rises to the significance of its subject. R. 108m. BROADWAY.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles as rebellious mothers, now visited by holiday stress and their own difficult moms (Susan Sarandon, Christine Baranski and Cheryl Hines). R. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. From director Takashi Miike, a samurai cursed with immortality (Takyua Kimura) helps a girl (Hana Sugisaki) avenge her murdered family. R. 140m. MINOR.
BOY (2010). In 1984 in the New Zealand sticks, a Michael Jackson-obsessed kid (James Rolleston) reunites with his criminal father (Taika Waititi). NR. 87m. MINOR.
DELORES. Documentary about Dolores Huerta, activist and union organizer alongside Cesar Chavez, and her struggles with police violence, and raising 11 kids. Damn. NR. 95m. MINIPLEX.
LUCKY. The legendary Harry Dean Stanton (RIP) stars as a 91-year-old man having an existential crisis in a small, dusty town with a missing tortoise. NR. 88m. MINIPLEX.
THOR: RAGNAROK. Chris Hemsworth and his arms return as the Norse god, who must battle Hela (a goth Cate Blanchett) to save Asgard. With Tessa Thompson, Tom Hiddleston and feminist pinup Mark Ruffalo. PG13. 130m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BLAZING SADDLES (1974). Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn in a work of genius by Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor. R. 93m. BROADWAY.
AMERICAN MADE. Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman find their groove in this entertaining true story of a pilot in over his head with cartels and the CIA in the 1980s. Cruise adds self-doubt to his usual bravado and Sarah Wright and Domhnall Gleeson shine in supporting roles. R. 115m. MILL CREEK.
BLADE RUNNER 2049. Director Denis Villeneuve cleaves to the DNA of the original — talky and broody, but gorgeous in its decrepitude, which will surely please hardcore fans more than general audiences. With Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. R. 163m. MILL CREEK.
THE FOREIGNER. Jackie Chan drops his trademark grin for a grim mask of revenge in this sure-footed actioner about a man seeking revenge against his daughter's killers. But between fight scenes, the plot is all over the place. With Pierce Brosnan. R. 114m. BROADWAY.
GEOSTORM. Those weather-controlling satellites the guy on the plaza is always talking about finally berserk and attack Earth. Gerard Butler stars and presumably saves the day by tossing rolls of paper towels. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JIGSAW. Still more strangers thrown together and turning on one another in a gratuitous game of random torture. Except in a horror movie instead of our national political hellscape. R. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. Director Matthew Vaughn's spy comic adaptation sequel is cartoonish, ultra-violent and silly. It's also gorgeously constructed and uniquely entertaining. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. R. 141m. BROADWAY.
ONLY THE BRAVE. Director Joseph Kosinski and a stellar cast (Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly) exceed disaster movie expectations in a tragic, emotionally truthful film about complicated people and relationships in a hotshot fire crew. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY.
TYLER PERRY'S BOO 2: A MADEA HALLOWEEN. Perry pulls the wig back on as the mouthy matriarch in a slasher send-up set at a haunted campground. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY.
VICTORIA AND ABDUL. An aging Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) bonds with Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who becomes her adviser, tutor and confidante. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill