George Clooney

Suburbicon

07/11/17

A recent viewing of the trailer for Suburbicon led me to observe that the film looked ‘Coenesque’ – so it comes as no great surprise to learn that is actually based around an abandoned 1980s Coen Brothers screenplay, which has been reworked by director, George Clooney and by screenwriter, Grant Heslov. Fans of the brothers grim, may notice a passing similarity to the plot of one of their finest offerings, Fargo. Having said that, this film steers its own course and certainly has plenty to recommend it.

It’s the 1950s and the titular Los Angeles community styles itself as a kind of dream home for middle America, proudly boasting that in its idyllic realm, there is no crime and everybody is welcome – that is until the Mayers family takes up residence. The Mayers , you see, are African-Americans and it’s soon made abundantly clear to them that the all-compassing welcome doesn’t actually apply to them. (It’s interesting to note that this part of the story is based on a real life family, the Myers, who suffered similar problems when they moved into a residence in Charlotteville Virginia in 1957). What starts as a few silent protesters balefully watching their home steadily builds until things degenerate into an all-out riot.

But while everyone’s focus is on the Meyers’ house, it’s clear that something very unpleasant is happening right next door. Young Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) is woken one night by his father, Gardner (a beefed up Matt Damon) who tells him that a couple of intruders are in the house and he is to do whatever they tell him. As Nicky watches dumbfounded, Gardner, his crippled wife, Rose and her twin sister, Margaret, (both played by Julianne Moore) are all chloroformed to unconsciousness, shortly before he is given the same terrifying treatment. When he wakes up, he learns that Rose has died – and pretty soon, his Aunt Margaret moves into the house to lend her support. Nicky gradually begins to understand that things are not quite as they seem…

One of Suburbicon’s strengths is that much of the story is seen from Nicky’s point of view and the growing realisation that he is living in a poisonous environment is expertly handled. His burgeoning friendship with young Andy Meyers (Tony Espinosa) is also nicely reined in, just two young boys getting amiably along, the message all the stronger for not being hammered home with a mallet. This being a Coen storyline, there are of course a couple of memorable villains (Alex Hassell and Glenn Fleshler, doing a kind of demented Laurel and Hardy routine) and there’s a nice cameo by Oscar Isaac as a snoopy insurance investigator.

As the story accelerates towards its conclusion, we head into Pardoner’s Tale territory, as everyone homes in on the lure of a huge insurance payout – but Nicky (and the Meyers family) are the only characters here who really deserve our compassion, and the film kept me rooting for them right up to the end.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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Money Monster

MoneyMonster

03/06/16

Some actors are happy to stay on their side of the lens and some, like Jodie Foster, occasionally like to swap positions and try their hands at directing. She’s done a pretty decent job of it here. Money Monster tells the story of Lee Gates (George Clooney) a cheesy corporate TV presenter who finds himself in jeopardy when ordinary Joe, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’ Connell) loses pretty much everything he owns on one of Lee’s ‘surefire’ investment tips and invades the studio with a gun and a belt stuffed with Semtex, intent on finding answers to some rather difficult questions. It’s left to Lee’s seasoned producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to talk her team through the resulting ordeal and to try to ensure that nobody gets killed in the process. In an attempt to preserve his own skin, Lee starts asking timely questions about how an investment  company called Ibis, could possibly have lost its investors $800,000,000  in one day. The answers all seem to lead towards the company’s head honcho, Walt Camby (Dominic West) and some dodgy dealings in South Africa…

Money Monster is a taut little thriller that asks some pertinent questions about the world of share dealing,  though perhaps it never delves quite as deeply into the subject as it might have. Still, it cooks up a fine head of steam as a straight ahead thriller and there’s plenty of good performances here – this might be Roberts’ best showing in quite a while. Rising star, O ‘Connell acquits himself well and gorgeous George handles his role with consummate ease. It’s not in the league of say, Dog Day Afternoon, but then, few films are and this makes for a decent hour and a half of entertainment.

The earth won’t move but if you’re looking to distract yourself, this is a decent investment.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Monuments Men

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21/11/14

Based (rather loosely, according to all reports) on a true story, The Monuments Men is actually built around an intriguing premise, the exploits of a team of art historians, who in the final days of the 2nd World War, are charged with the task of rescuing some of the great works of art appropriated by the Nazis. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) and his veteran team undergo basic training (a piece of cake apparently) and then head off to a series of exotic locations in search of Hitler’s pilfered masterpieces, while the war rumbles on, rather half-heartedly, in the background.

Handsomely mounted and featuring a cast to die for –  Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchette, Bill Murray… (I could go on), the overwhelming mystery here is why the resulting movie is so fatally uninvolving. Perhaps the blame lies with the lukewarm script by Clooney and Grant Heslov, which barely touches upon the irony of men giving their lives to save art (one short scene in John Frankenheimer’s The Train (1964) says it more eloquently than this entire movie does) or perhaps it’s the fact that the story never manages to generate any real fire in its belly and becomes a series of ‘almost did’ events. Damon’s character for instance, almost has a romantic liaison with Blanchette’s art historian, but instead, does the decent thing and goes home. Hugh Bonneville as a disgraced historian, who given a second chance decides to be a hero, almost manages to raise a tear but, not quite. Likewise when Damon’s character stands on an unexploded land mine, an opportunity to generate some genuine suspense if ever there was one, the device turns out to be a dud.

Ultimately, this is a decent enough attempt at telling a story, yet there remains the distinct conviction that the story must surely have been grittier and more dynamic than this and consequently, The Monuments Men should be filed under L for  lost opportunities.

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney