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‘Suburbicon’ Is A Fascinating Disaster (Movie Review)

This year has provided ample opportunity for filmmakers to put together features tackling various social issues entertainingly or intriguingly, while also opening up further discussion. Suburbicon is not one of them. This George Clooney-directed misfire wastes ample opportunity to do more with its overt symbolism by embedding a predictable and mostly unfunny crime caper in the middle of a setting embroiled with racial tension. There’s evident desire to make a darkly humorous, suburban-set satire, but it ends up as yet another failed cinematic attempt at mimicking the Coen brothers.

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Fittingly enough, this script began as one the Coen’s put together and disregarded back in 1986, following their debut film, Blood Simple. Clooney and his writing/producer partner Grant Heslov took on the project, and the result is a dud of a movie and another miss for Clooney as a director. He’s made six films thus far but everything following the one-two punch of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck makes me think the Cloonster may not have much left in him behind the camera.

The story begins with an introduction of Suburbicon, a growing suburban city that wouldn’t feel out of place in any 1950s sitcom. Things immediately get a shakeup when the friendly mailman is stunned by the revelation that the first black family now resides amongst this all-white town. Town meetings are had and protests begin. In the meantime, Matt Damon stars as Gardner Lodge, a simple businessman and father, whose wife has recently been murdered. There is a reason to suspect Lodge may know more than he is letting on, but we’ll have to wait and see while his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), deals with the grief and befriends the young son of the black family now living next door.

There are significant issues in how Clooney and Heslov have decided to bring these two stories together. The arrival of the black family is based on a true story involving William and Daisy Myers. Developing a biopic about their story was initially Clooney and Heslov’s plan. However, it was added into the Coen-styled crime caper and never gels appropriately. While the plot involving Damon wavers between dark humor and broad antics, we are supposed to get a feel for the angry message stemming from this film as far as being lectured on the (continued) horrors of racial injustice. It doesn’t work.

A growing habit for (generally white) filmmakers with a noble cause is to equate silence with heroism and as a result, the black family (renamed “Meyers” and portrayed by Leith M. Burke and Karimah Westbrook) has hardly anything to say in this film. They are given ample opportunity to show quiet judgments of the ignorant and vile bigotry around them, but this means so little when the film fails to do any justice to this plotline, beyond show the extent of the horrors they suffer.

It feels like another example of a story designed to make certain people reflect on society. However, it is not only limiting because the audience seeking out Suburbicon likely already understands this message but because this aspect of the film is not even a primary focus. It exists in the background to give Damon’s storyline more meaning, but that is also an area full of issues.

This story involving Garnder, his son Nicky, and Gardner’s sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore) fails to go anywhere all that interesting, outside of the stylized vision Clooney (and I imagine the Coens) had for their pseudo idyllic 50s setting. The film understandably attempts to function as neo-noir, given the hidden level of corruption just under the surface and the presence of various intimidating characters, but the sleek cinematography by Robert Elswit and a retro score by Alexandre Desplat only take one so far.

Considering what this film is going for in showing the troubles surrounding a seemingly decent man, it seems apparent that the wrong choices were made when taking on ideas that stem from the Coens. This often happens when filmmakers have the nuts and bolts of other filmmakers, but fail to realize how all the pieces should fit. Laying out this main storyline, I can see a way for this to work. However, it feels all wrong in delivery, with few exceptions.

Oscar Isaac enters into this film around the second half and appears to be in on the vibe Suburbicon is going after. The same can be said for Jack Conley, who portrays a member of the police. Meanwhile, Damon and Moore are diving in on the chance to play their roles big, and it pays off to little effect. A final scene with Damon is pretty great and a fun challenge to his persona, but it comes far too late in a film that’s already squandered so much potential.

The real success of this film lies with young Jupe as Nicky. The child’s perspective portions of this film paint a seemingly interesting story that puts focus on both his father’s plotline as well as the racial tensions next door. I find it fascinating that neither Clooney nor Heslov were able to clue into that more while developing this version of the script but I guess it’s difficult to resist providing lots of goofy things for A-list stars to do in the film instead.

Suburbicon would maybe work as a tragedy were the film not going for so many laughs. It’s tonally off-putting and upsetting as a piece of social commentary that undoubtedly comes from a good place yet awkwardly struggles to handle that aspect. With so little to admire beyond the aesthetic value that one would expect from such a prestigious group of talent, I once again have to point out that an A-list can of paint can’t always wash over a mess, even when it’s trying to do more than just a whitewash.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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