For a re­view of “Subur­bicon,”

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The tal­ent in front of and be­hind the cam­era for Ge­orge Clooney’s lat­est direc­to­rial ef­fort, the 1950s satire “Subur­bicon,” has ac­cu­mu­lated heaps of Os­car gold. But tal­ented, award­win­ning film­mak­ers can get it to­tally, em­bar­rass­ingly wrong some­times. There’s no other way to say it — this movie stinks. It is ir­ri­tat­ing, faux- edgy, tonally wack, strained, un­funny and such a colos­sally tone- deaf mis­fire.

Clooney en­lists Ju­lianne Moore to trot out her tired Step­ford wife rou­tine, while Matt Da­mon phones in an­other it­er­a­tion of his doltish dork char­ac­ter. But both of their per­for­mances just make us think of times when they’ve done this be­fore, only bet­ter.

“Subur­bicon” is a grotesque Franken­stein’s mon­ster stitched to­gether from parts of “Pleas­antville,” “Fargo,” “Far From Heaven” and “The In­for­mant!,” which are all great films, but this mean­ing­less pas­tiche has no idea what it ac­tu­ally wants to say. Open­ing with an ad­ver­tise­ment for a cookie- cut­ter Le­vit­town- style sub­urb called Subur­bicon, we plunge into this world of big hair, big skirts, per­fect lawns and nu­clear fam­i­lies. It’s pic­ture per­fec­tion with di­ver­sity by way of white fam­i­lies from Ohio and Mis­sis­sippi. But there’s dark­ness un­der­neath all that same­ness.

“Subur­bicon” fun­da­men­tally fails in ask­ing its au­di­ence to do two wildly dif­fer­ent things at the same time. We’re to laugh at a satir­i­cal fam­ily mur­der in­sur­ance scam, but we’re also sup­posed to feel very sad and solemn about the evils of racism. But you can’t mix ni­hilism and earnest­ness. It just doesn’t work.

Bloody hi­jinks en­sue in half of this movie. Rose ( Moore), the wife of square busi­ness­man Gard­ner Lodge ( Da­mon), is mur­dered in a ter­ri­fy­ing home in­va­sion. Her twin sis­ter, Mag­gie ( also Moore), moves in to care for their son, Nicky ( Noah Jupe), but the re­la­tion­ship be­tween his dad and aunt in­stantly seems fishy to the young boy, and things spi­ral out of con­trol for Gard­ner.

This ab­sur­dist, vi­o­lent tale is clas­sic Coen Broth­ers. They orig­i­nally wrote the script, and their voice is ob­vi­ous. Clooney and his writ­ing/ pro­duc­ing part­ner Grant Heslov also took a pass, and it’s clear that the film­maker who ex­cels at straight­for­ward, po­lit­i­cally en­gaged ef­forts like “Good Night and Good Luck,” couldn’t re­sist shoe­horn­ing in some so­cial com­men­tary about the toxic hege­mony of Subur­bicon.

Con­cur­rent to the slow fam­ily an­ni­hi­la­tion, we wit­ness the plight of the Mey­ers fam­ily, the first African-Amer­i­can res­i­dents in Subur­bicon, who are tor­mented day and night by a racist mob of their neigh­bors. What is the point of this gross sub­plot? It’s a con­de­scend­ing, crit­i­cally un­in­ter­ro­gated take on old- timey racism — are we to feel bet­ter that racism is more nu­anced and cam­ou­flaged now? Mr. Mey­ers doesn’t even get a sin­gle line. He’s com­pletely voice­less, and we watch this fam­ily silently en­dure this bur­den for some fu­tile rea­son.

There are a cou­ple of bright spots: Os­car Isaac brings the en­ergy up as a skep­ti­cal in­sur­ance agent, while Jupe brings the heart and soul. There are mo­ments where it seems they might have told the whole bloody tale from Nicky’s per­spec­tive, which would have been in­ter­est­ing— but that’s aban­doned.

Ul­ti­mately “Subur­bicon” is woe­fully un­der­writ­ten. Gard­ner and Mag­gie are mere sketches, a set of fa­cial tics and ac­ces­sories mas­querad­ing as real char­ac­ters. The racism story is so broad it’s es­sen­tially mean­ing­less, and there are even some glar­ing con­ti­nu­ity er­rors. “Subur­bicon” is a shoddy, shame­ful show­ing, de­spite pres­ti­gious ori­gins.

“Subur­bicon,” a Paramount Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for vi­o­lence, lan­guage and some sex­u­al­ity. Run­ning time: 104 min­utes.

“Thank You for Your Ser­vice”

It’s been a long time since “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the beloved 1946 film about sol­diers re­turn­ing home to their fam­i­lies after World War II, but the story, in many ways, re­mains the same.

In Wil­liam Wyler’s movie, the sac­ri­fices of war were em­bod­ied by vet- turnedac­tor Harold Rus­sell, who lost both his hands in the Army. But com­bat in­juries aren’t al­ways so vis­i­ble, as ev­i­denced in “Thank You for Your Ser­vice,” the direc­to­rial de­but of “Amer­i­can Sniper” writer Ja­son Hall, who adapted David Finkel’s book for the screen.

“Thank You for Your Ser­vice” ex­plores the dev­as­ta­tion of PTSD suf­fered by Amer­i­can sol­diers re­turn­ing home in 2007, dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom. Washington Post jour­nal­ist Finkel em­bed­ded with a group of sol­diers in Iraq to write the book “The Good Sol­diers,” and his fol­low up, “Thank Your for Your Ser­vice,” de­tails their read­just­ment to their fam­i­lies and civil­ian life while bat­tling phys­i­cal, men­tal and emo­tional in­juries.

Miles Teller stars as Sgt. Adam Schu­mann, who strug­gles to find his foot­ing back home with his wife ( Ha­ley Ben­nett) and kids. He seems most at ease when look­ing out for his boys, like he did back in Iraq, and is plagued by guilt over in­ci­dents at home and abroad when he was un­able to save his bud­dies from in­jury or death.

The de­tail­ing of their phys­i­cal and emo­tional in­juries is laid in an al­most edu­tain­ment style, cit­ing sta­tis­tics about sui­cide, and care­ful ques­tion­naires about men­tal dis­tress. But it’s at once an ac­count of PTSD and a wartime mys­tery. While these young vets strug­gle to re­ceive treat­ment for their com­bat stress, trau­matic brain in­juries and sui­ci­dal thoughts, they also speak cryp­ti­cally about, “what hap­pened to Doster,” one of their com­rades who died, leav­ing be­hind a dis­traught widow ( Amy Schumer) search­ing for an­swers.

While parts of “Thank You for Your Ser­vice” work well, over­all, the film is in­con­sis­tent. A mid­dle sec­tion lays out a per­fect vil­lain that is dis­ap­point­ingly dropped: the gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem that churns through boys and leaves them alone to nav­i­gate the bu­reau­cratic night­mare that is Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, while ad­mon­ish­ing them that it’s “bad for morale” to ask for help.

This bit­ing, tren­chant so­cial com­men­tary is aban­doned for a mis­guided sub­plot in­volv­ing Solo ( Beu­lah Koale), Adam’s buddy, get­ting caught up in a bad sit­u­a­tion with a drug dealer, a Desert Storm vet. It’s ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing that the film ul­ti­mately po­si­tions the real threat as a fel­lowvet, a man of color, rather than the war ma­chine that chewed them up and spit them out.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Army wives aren’t all that much to write home about ei­ther. They’re mostly shrill nags who can’t un­der­stand. Amy Schumer, mak­ing a turn to­ward dra­matic fare, is woe­fully mis­cast. In a brown wig, it’s too hard to sep­a­rate her from her comedic per­sona, and it al­most feels like one of her “In­side Amy Schumer” sketches.

Teller is a com­pelling ac­tor, and when the film fo­cuses on Adam and his boys— their bonds forged in com­bat, sealed with blood— it’s sen­si­tive and mov­ing. No man is left be­hind, even back home. Teller is best across from Koale, who is ut­terly riv­et­ing in his soul­ful per­for­mance as the Amer­i­can Samoan sol­dier Solo. De­spite its sto­ry­telling in­con­sis­ten­cies, the film re­veals a har­row­ing vet­eran ex­pe­ri­ence when it fo­cuses sim­ply on the men them­selves.

“Thank You For Your Ser­vice,” a DreamWorks Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for strong vi­o­lent con­tent, lan­guage through­out, some sex­u­al­ity, drug ma­te­rial and brief nu­dity. Run­ning tine: 108 min­utes. ½


Ha­ley Ben­nett, left, and Miles Teller star in “Thank You for Your Ser­vice.” The drama fol­lows a group of U. S. sol­diers re­turn­ing from Iraq who strug­gle to in­te­grate back into fam­ily and civil­ian life.

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