One of the consistent narratives coming out of the Toronto Film Festival screenings of Suburbicon was that director George Clooney “…is Not the Coen Brothers.” This perspective colored many a review and write-up and was mentioned frequently as one of the reasons the film didn’t quite work for the reviewer. The connection is obvious. Not only has Clooney acted for the Coens in four films but the screenplay for Suburbicon comes from the brothers, one they’ve fiddled with for two decades and eventually handed to Clooney.
That narrative has continued through recent reviews like this one. They all measure the film’s success against the Coens. While I understand not only the reasons for doing so but the specifics of those comparisons, I can’t help but feel it does a disservice to the film.
Ideally movies are judged by their own success or failure to achieve certain objectives. Whether or not the story works, the performances are good, the script is coherent and logical and the direction competent should all be factors in deciding if the finished, cohesive product is determined to be of a certain quality.
My problem is that this seems to not see the movie as a unique product, judging it by an unfair standard.
This isn’t a Coen Brothers movie. Yes, it was written by them originally but Clooney and Grant Heslov are also credited as writers, having taken a fresh pass on it as it moved into production. Shouldn’t that have some weight in evaluation? How many steps removed from someone does it have to be before it’s no longer measured against that particular yardstick?
To their credit, many critics are just trying to put each film into some sort of context for the reader. It can help them decide what’s worth seeing and it allows for the critic to display their knowledge of the overall cinematic landscape.
Even judging a movie’s placement among the talent’s body of work sometimes feels unfair as it allows little room for experimentation or growth. The same problem happens often with franchise films, both only exacerbated by the need to endlessly rank things.
I guess I just prefer movies to be evaluated on their own merits. Let each one stand or fall as it’s able, not weighted down with expectations and assumptions based on what’s come before.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.