In this edition, we’re taking a look at Suburbicon, American Made, and the third episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
I’m as big a Matt Damon fan as there is; I’m willing to see anything he does, purely on the strength of his performances. I’m not saying he’s the best or most transformative actor in the world, but he’s consistent in his acting quality and seems to pick good projects. So, when I saw that he was partnering with George Clooney and the Coen brothers for an odd-looking dark comedy murder movie set in a fake small town in the 50s, I was more than on board.
The trailers did a great job of building the suspense while also highlighting the humorous tone. Sure, people are dying and there’s fire and blood, but Matt Damon is also riding a little kid’s bicycle. How wacky! The problem is — and we’re seeing this more and more nowadays with movies like Passengers — the trailers sold me on a movie very different than the actual movie.
The real Suburbicon is all of those descriptors I highlighted earlier, but Matt Damon’s character is very different than what was pitched in the trailers. As is the story. In fact, I’d argue that Damon’s son is actually the protagonist of the film, and he basically wasn’t even in the damn trailers. Now, I can’t fault the movie itself for having deceptive marketing, but it’s harder to like something when it turns out to be vastly different than what you expected.
To be clear, Suburbicon isn’t a bad film. It has plenty of the oddball characters and subtext-laden writing you’d expect from a Coen brothers movie. Clooney also has fun with the directorial style, and it works. The performances are also fantastic. Damon takes you on an emotional rollercoaster throughout, Julianne Moore is that perfect combo of sexy/motherly/intimidating that she typically brings to a role, and Oscar Issac dominates the screen in his short appearance.
But at its core, Suburbicon ends up being a pretty by the numbers mobster movie with a side story that seems to exist only to avoid potential plot holes. Suburbicon just isn’t as interesting a film as the trailers made me think I was getting. It’s hard to look past that.
If American Made wasn’t starring Tom Cruise, I probably would have stopped watching after the first 30 minutes. Similar to Gold, the whole film feels like Cruise is doing his best and working hard, despite the lackluster material. American Made just isn’t a well-made movie.
The concept is so promising, too. It’s about a real-life guy that started working for both the CIA and the Columbian drug cartel, flying drugs and guns in and out of the country. There are plenty of twists and turns as he makes millions of dollars and tries to screw over everyone possible, but there’s an overreliance on montages to show the passage of time and advance events, so the whole thing feels a bit rushed.
Events just sort of happen without any stakes. There’s never really a moment where you’re afraid something will go bad for Barry (Cruise). He just kind of coasts along. Considering the amount of money, drugs, guns, and action taking place on screen, the movie is pretty boring throughout.
Again, this is the fault of Cruise, who brings his typical charming dude character to bear. He continues to be one of the easiest actors to watch, with a commanding presence that doesn’t challenge the viewer. That’s both a good thing and a bad at times, but his performance as Barry works. The rest of the characters are barely characters. There’s the wife that comes in and out, supporting him in one scene and hating him in the next. There’s the CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson), who takes advantage of Barry but is mostly a plot device.
Then there are the drug lords, Ochoa and Escobar. I thought it would be fun to see those characters from this movie’s perspective, having seen them in Narcos. They’re both somewhat interesting and create some drama throughout, but they aren’t all that intrinsic to most scenes. This is really Barry’s show.
The 80s aesthetic comes through well, with fitting music used to underscore the scenes and drive the montages. Visually, there are some interesting shot framing choices that I’m not sure I like. There is more than one instance of a camera move that’s highly distracting. I’m not sure if director Doug Liman was trying to imitate a documentary feel, but whatever the reasoning, it doesn’t work.
All in all, American Made is just a forgettable movie. After finishing it, I kind of wish I would have listened to my gut and turned it off halfway through, which is about as damning evidence as you can get. This movie showed a ton of promise as a fun summer flick, but the straightforward story is told in a needlessly rushed and confusing way, the characters aren’t all that interesting, and the climax sort of comes out of nowhere. With as many shows and movies have covered this topic and period in American history, I’m not sure that American Made needed to be made.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode Three
If you haven’t already read them, my reviews of Life is Strange: Before the Storm episodes one and two are pretty indicative of how I feel about this surprise prequel made from a different studio than the first season. At this point, I’d have almost preferred the entire mini-series be awful across the board, because the glimpses of greatness these three episodes offer only makes the entire experience all the more disappointing.
After the bad first impression of episode one, episode two seemed to get things slightly more on track, with a few great scenes and a better focus on the Chloe/Rachel relationship. Episode three continues the character drama, but it also tries to tie side stories together in a way that doesn’t feel all that necessary. Honestly, parts of “Hell is Empty” feel like you’re killing time because Deck Nine wanted the episode to be longer than 45 minutes.
Rachel’s parents play a larger role in this episode, and man do those vocal performances drag things down. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the voice actors, vocal direction, the writing, or a combination of the three, but I was borderline falling asleep throughout the first half of the episode — listening to Rachel’s dad drone on and on about why he did what he did. Life doesn’t need to be this melodramatic.
At least there’s one area where it does feel like Deck Nine learned from their earlier mistakes. There’s only one instance of the trash talking mini-game, and thank the lord for that. Those scenes will do down as some of my most eye-rolling gaming experiences of 2017.
The stuff between Chloe and Rachel is mostly good. Chloe is still kind of an annoying hipster, and at times the writing feels forced or emotionally manipulative, but I just enjoy experiencing life with those two characters and watching their relationship blossom. Even though the ending drags on a bit, I liked the resolution to the story. The events are framed well with the music, and the climactic choice feels impactful and left me thinking about my decision well after I had chosen it. For comparison, 49 percent of players chose the option I did, with 51 percent going in the other direction. That kind of parity tells me that the choice was far from an easy one.
However, there’s a little stinger at the end that ties Before the Storm to season one of Life is Strange, and it actively pissed me off. Having played through the original, I know what eventually happens to Rachel. Don’t show me Chloe and Rachel getting along and in love, only to dig the knife in deeper with that little scene that takes place shortly before season one. It doesn’t just ruin the good vibes you feel at the end of the game, it actively undermines those events and makes them seem less worthwhile — in addition to reminding you just how much better season one was than this disappointment.
Be sure to check out my other Quickie Reviews!