Published on October 28th, 2017 | by Damien Straker
Suburbicon – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 28th of October 2017
Roadshow presents a film by George Clooney
Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Joel Silver and Teddy Schwarzman
Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe and Oscar Isaac
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Edited by Stephen Mirrione
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: the 26th of October 2017
George Clooney is one of the most recognisable names and faces on the planet. He has many strings to his bow. He’s an Oscar winner, an engaging political activist, a coffee expert and is generally regarded as a highly respectable figure across the film industry.
He’s also quickly becoming a very middling director. Strong actors are not always made for the transition. Rather than focussing on a single role, you’re expected to harness every aspect of the production.
Good direction, or more specifically tonal control, has been the cornerstone of Clooney’s best work as an actor (Up in the Air, The Descendants and Out of Sight) and a filmmaker (The Ides of March and Good Night and Good Luck).
These films knew their moods perfectly and stuck to them like glue. When he doesn’t have this deftness in place, Clooney’s not immune to making serious duds (The Monuments Men for example).
Sadly, with Suburbicon, control is something that is picked up, drop punted over the back fence and then repeatedly run over by speeding cars, possibly escaping from the nearest cinema.
Suburbicon was developed from a dusty Coen brothers script written as far back as 1986. In 2005, the Coens were to direct the film themselves and have Clooney star in the lead role, but the project was tucked away in a drawer.
Without being too mean, that’s where the film should have stayed. Clooney knows he wants to make a jet-black comedy-drama, which is fine, but balancing the tone and the style completely falls apart in his hands.
The film opens in the suburbs of the 1950s with a deliberately bouncy, comedic, almost cartoon-like atmosphere. An American town called ‘Suburbicon’ is completely shocked and repelled to find that a nice Black family is living amongst them. There’s even a whistling postman and exaggerated sound effects used on the soundtrack when a car backs into something.
The first problem with this opening is that the conceptual idea of an idealistic White town with a mean streak below the surface is becoming a tired narrative construct that has been thoroughly exhausted across both film and television.
Now let’s contrast this opening with a crucial scene still in the film’s first act. A young boy named Nicky (Noah Jupe) is woken up by his father Gardner (Matt Damon) in the middle of the night. He’s told he needs to come downstairs. There are unwanted men in the house.
Each family member, including the boy’s mother and aunt (both played by Julianne Moore), is then tied up at the dinner table by two hideous home invaders. One by one, each family member has a rag of chloroform placed over their mouth and is knocked unconscious. Are you dying of laughter yet?
These two sequences typify the disunity between the film’s awkwardly shifting moods. Yes, it’s surprisingly hard making people laugh during a home invasion that results in the murder of Nicky’s mother. The intense piano music score, undoubtedly pinched from several Hitchcock movies, doesn’t gel with the comedy either.
What unfolds from here is a particularly lousy, cliched crime story peppered with comedy and twists that are too foreseeable, particularly in a key scene in a police station. There’s even a lame basement gag that’s just a copy of something much funnier in Burn After Reading (2008).
Suburbicon is sunk not only by its heavy handedness and the lack of laughs, particularly for someone who likes observational comedy over scatological humour, but also the poor development of the narrative and the relationships.
It’s difficult to talk about the adults without spoiling the main plot twist, but broadly speaking the actions of Gardner and his sister in-law are never properly explored with a backstory or reasoning, only run-of-the-mill Noir clichés to motivate them.
Gardner’s flat-out unpleasantness leaves Suburbicon splintered between two blunt protagonists: an adult we have no love for and a small boy who can’t carry the story all on his own. Both Julianne Moore and Matt Damon flounder badly in their roles because there’s nothing ticking inside this pair of mean-spirited caricatures.
Matt Damon is particularly miscast—the role needed someone smaller and more delightfully pitiful than aggro, which is a character trait the Coen brothers achieved with aplomb in Fargo (1996).
The only fun adult character here is Bud Cooper, an insurance investigator played with great energy, albeit briefly, by Oscar Isaac. What happened to the rest of the story after this character has had his run though?
Woody Harrelson and Josh Brolin were attached to the film, but their characters were cut, meaning we aren’t being granted the full story. Instead there’s a lot of violence and bloodshed, some of which is meant to be funny (I think).
I almost laughed at what happened to a body out on the open road but not quite. Close enough isn’t good enough these days. It’s problematic that the morbid humour is also thematically adrift from the film’s subplot and its underlining message about tolerance.
The neighbouring Black family is tormented by a crazed White mob outside their home, but Nicky and his Black friend still play together. The juxtaposition between the main storyline and this glib footnote is poorly edited with jarring cutaways feeling overly shoehorned in and frequently interrupting the story.
The controlling idea is that if children of different races can get along, why can’t grown adults? The very last scene of this film involving the two kids tries evoking this but is so mawkishly condescending that I left as soon as the end credits rolled.
If you’re still curious about Suburbicon, watch Get Out (2017) instead. It lands every note that this film fails to strike, from the mix of comedy and violence to the thematic points about race relations and submerged anger and hate. Suburbicon is as though Get Out was made by silly White people and it was terrible. Who the hell would want to watch that?
Summary: Suburbicon is as though Get Out was made by silly White people and it was terrible. Who the hell would want to watch that?