Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
Directed by George Clooney
It’s 1959 in the city of Suburbicon, USA, and the first black family has moved in. This event is causing quite the stir, and the “well-meaning” people of the town just don’t that black people are ready to live in their neighborhood yet. When The Mayers don’t seem to get the message the citizenry begin to escalate matters. Meanwhile, the next block over Nicky Lodge’s life is turned upside down when two strange men barge into the house in the middle of the night. They end up killing Nicky’s mother leaving his father, Gardner, a widow. Thankfully, Nicky’s aunt and his late mother’s sister Margaret is there to help.
Suburbicon is a disappointing mess. I wish I could say this film was witty and insightful, but it just ends up being a muddled disaster. The entire movie you feel like the filmmakers are trying to say something, but what they trying to say and what they are saying it about it completely indecipherable. The plot about the town’s racism towards the Mayers barely touches on the murder mystery threads going on in the Lodge household. There don’t appear to be any thematic parallels or any plot connections. Within the Lodge story, the tone is entirely uneven, sometimes feeling like a wry Coen Brothers venture and then other times delving into a dark, macabre crime picture.
What’s even worse is the black family aren’t what I would consider characters. We spend barely any time with them that isn’t a scene where a racist person is harassing them there is no way we can know anything about who they are. By attempting to tell a story about the horrors of racism and segregation in this time period we end up with one-dimensional black props.
When you reach the end of Suburbicon, you almost want to perform an inquest, attempting to determine the cause of death for this picture. The talent is there. A script by the Coens. George Clooney in the director’s chair isn’t always a bad thing, I mean I really liked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In the lead roles, we have Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, not slouches. In Clooney’s bid to mimic the Coens, he casts wonderfully interesting supporting actors. But it is the plot and tone where everything falls apart.
The murder of Nicky’s mother occurs early in the film, even before we have seen or gotten to know Gardner. There is one scene between Margaret and her sister Rose before Rose is offed. So when this horrific scene occurs, the audience doesn’t really know anything about who is in peril. We don’t need to know why, that ends up being part of the mystery, but I feel like if there were a sense of who this was happening to the horror of the events would be better amplified.
I also caught on to the truth behind the home invasion scene pretty early on, but thought “Nah, it can’t be that obvious.” By the time the insurance claims investigator, played by Oscar Isaac shows up on the scene, it was pretty much confirmed that the apparent explanation was exactly what was going on. No exciting twist on expectations, just straightforward. But the film presents this as a big ah-ha! moment, as if they have surprised the viewer. The only light in this entire mess was the scene between Isaac and Moore, the single bit of fun exciting acting in the whole affair.
It is pretty apparent why the Coens chose not to direct this feature themselves, even they must have known the script was well below their standards. But it is mind-boggling that George Clooney could have looked at this and thought he could do better. We have to believe that at some point in production, Clooney knew this was going to end up a total mess and just kept soldiering on. A disappointing entry from some very talented people.