Suburbicon Review

It’s not often that one film attempts so many different things and manages to make none of them work, but gosh darn it, Suburbicon somehow makes such blundering seem easy. Director George Clooney packs a whole lot of ideas into his tale of the underbelly of 1950s suburbia, but they’re really bad, lazy ideas, which is a shame because Suburbicon has quite the pedigree.

The biggest problem with Suburbicon is that it’s really two different movies cobbled together. One movie is a dark, farcical Coen Brothers-style crime movie. Which makes sense, since the Coens have a writing credit on the film. But then there’s the other movie, one that deals with racism and white supremacy. This is an element of the film that absolutely none of the advertising even hints at, which is kind of strange.

You really shouldn’t hold a movie’s advertising against it, but the trailers for Suburbicon make it look like a wacky dark comedy about a family man in the 50s fighting back against his tormentors. That’s not even close to what this movie is about, and the fact that the trailers tried to sell it as that hints at a movie that folks don’t know how to sell.

Suburbicon is the perfect 1950s community, with nice, friendly faces – all of them white. Then a black family moves in, and the neighborhood loses its mind, completely unprepared for how to handle such a shake-up. It’s not that they’re against desegregation, the residents say. They just aren’t ready for it now.

Around the same time the African-American family moves into the neighborhood, a pair of men break into the home of Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and take his family hostage. His son Nicky (Noah Jupe) watches in horror as the men drug and kill his mother (Julianne Moore). In the aftermath, Nicky’s aunt Margaret (also played by Moore) moves into the house, dyes her hair the same color of her dead sister, and grows awfully close to Gardner.

As for Gardner, he’s acting mighty suspicious, and not at all like a man grieving the death of his wife. Nicky’s kindly Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) wants to help out, but Gardner keeps the boy isolated and Mitch at bay.

So where does the black family fit into this narrative, you might be wondering. It doesn’t. In fact, the family in question barely even qualify as characters. Suburbicon instead uses them as props; they’re mostly silent individuals who fight to hold their heads up high while their neighbors try to run them out of town. It’s never even clear that Gardner knows these new neighbors exist, even though Nicky strikes up a friendship with the young boy of the family. How does this family’s plight relate to anything going on with Gardner? It doesn’t. Because this is a bad movie.

The script, also co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov, wants to say something about white hypocrisy – the neighbors are shouting about how their neighborhood was a nice, decent place until “the negroes” moved in, all the while seemingly upstanding white citizen Gardner is up to no good.

SUBURBICON

Damon, as Gardner, is stuck with a character with no clear motives. Gardner’s mood and characterizations seemingly change from scene to scene – he goes from sort-of nice to downright evil at the blink of an eye. The same goes for Moore, who plays Margaret as either aloof or scheming depending on what the scene calls for. The only actor in the film who manages to make the material work is Oscar Isaac, who shows up late as an insurance investigator. Isaac finds the right balance between charm and smarm, and he breathes much needed life into a mostly lifeless film.

Suburbicon looks like it should be wonderful. The cast is comprised of good to great actors, Clooney has made excellent films in the past, the costume design is impeccable and the cinematography by Robert Elswit is both inviting and foreboding. Yet nothing here is clicking. There’s a bizarre lack of energy to nearly every single scene; the editing, by Stephen Mirrione, is far too loose, letting scenes linger far too long. The worst production element of all is the ridiculously overblown score from Alexandre Desplat, which booms and blasts incessantly. It’s absolutely dreadful.

Dreadful is the adjective that best sums up Suburbicon. One lesson to take away from the film is that no one except the Coen brothers should direct Coen brothers scripts. The only exception to this rule is Bridge of Spies, and that film had Steven Spielberg as a director. Clooney is no Spielberg, and while he’s been great acting in Coen brothers films, he has no idea how to direct their material.

One good movie could’ve been made from either of Suburbicon’s two threads – either a biting examination of racism in the 50s and how it’s not very different from today, or a darkly comedic murder mystery. Mashing these two very different ideas together makes absolutely no sense, and by the time Suburbicon closes on the most heavy-handed imagery imaginable, you’ll be wishing all these talented people had used their talents for something better.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a writer who frowns a lot. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, /Film, Mashable, The Film Stage, Birth.Movies.Death, The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413