Movie Review: ‘Suburbicon’


Director: George Clooney

Cast: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe

Plot: In white-picket-fence 1950s suburbia we see a single criminal act snowball into chaos, exposing the dark underbelly of the American Dream.

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Review: Black comedies are a difficult tightrope to walk.

We begin with a cheesy ad reel urging families to move to the neighbourhood of Suburbicon, safe from the dangers of city living. This is followed by the shocked reaction to a black family moving into the block. From here we jump to the Lodge family, one of many wholesome white families in Suburbicon. During the night two strangers break into the Lodge household and murder Rose (Moore), the wheelchair bound mother of Nicky (Jupe) and wife of Gardner (Damon).

Rose’s sister (also Moore) moves into the house to help care for the family and we begin to peel back the layers of what has really been happening in the house. All of this is set against a backdrop of escalating harassment and violence against the African-American family as their neighbourhood attempt to drive them out.

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From the poster and the opening of the film we can already see that the production design is a big win for Suburbicon. Clooney has managed to recreate the era as it was depicted by the magazines of the era but with a distinct atmosphere of unease. Sadly the trailer seems uncertain as to what to do with the movie because we were expected something akin to a revenge thriller and that is not what this is. This is a cold and dark movie with very few redeeming or sympathetic characters.

Like the design work the acting talent is on point. Director Clooney and Damon have worked together a number of times and the later turns in a much darker role than we usually see him in. A small part from Oscar Isaacs is an (unsurprising) stand-out, bringing a cartoonish energy and humour to the film. It would have been good if all the characters approached their parts this way, as it could have heightened the level of satire the movie is striving for.

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To best sum up the tone of the film we need to look at its creators. Joel and Ethan Coen wrote the script shortly after their debut feature Blood Simple and their fingerprints are all over it. In the 30 years since we’ve seen many ideas and concepts from this script being used in their other projects, especially Fargo. The script also feels unrefined, like the Coens hadn’t quite nailed it down and left it to gather dust. Clooney has reworked it into this film and it, unfortunately, still feels like it’s to early through development to be fully realised.

The most glaring issue is that we don’t have a protaganist. You could imagine that young Nicky could fulfil this role, but large swathes of the script don’t feature him. Gardner Lodge (Damon) is the focus of many scenes but is entirely unsympathetic. The movie could have worked much better if we spent more time with Nicky and saw the story unfold from his perspective, seeing things that connected dots for us but not his more innocent mindset. This would’ve held off some major reveals until they had more impact. The full involvement of some of the major characters could have been a major betrayal if shown this way, and it would have been saying something interesting and challenging.

When stripped down to it’s characters and plot what we have is Fargo but without Frances McDormand’s character for audiences to get behind. Whilst Clooney is more than capable of framing his shots well, working with his performers and making use of colour he hasn’t been able to bring out the Coen’s dry and dark sense of humour. It feels like he’s not wiling to push the characters and concept to the level of absurdity it needs to work. 

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Suburbicon has many great individual parts. The actors, especially youngster Noah Jupe, are all solid. The style and design are impressive. There’s even some good shocks and laughs along the way. The script, however, didn’t have the right approach to tie it all together and the social satire a bit to clumsily integrated to make it reach its potential.

Rating: FOUR out of TEN

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