Directed by George Clooney.
Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Glenn Fleshler, Gary Basaraba, Karimah Westbrook, Tony Espinosa, Megan Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac.
A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.
At this point, we must accept that George Clooney is a much better actor than director, or at the very least is going through a continuous string of baffling misfires. The Monuments Men and Suburbicon now mark back to back features, that from the beginning, were set up to be prestige awards-worthy pictures only for the results to meet far below those expectations.
Suburbicon is at best, mediocre, which is still actually a condemnation of its quality considering it was written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore provide serviceable performances at the center of an All-American blue-collar family in the wholesome but comically over-the-top racist neighborhood of the titular Suburbicon, but acting alone cannot save a movie that has either been lost in translation from the page to the screen, or possibly something that was flat-out terrible from its conception. Factoring in that the Coen brothers have never made a bad film in their decades-spanning career but occasionally write movies that turn out to be busts, it’s within reason to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of George Clooney.
Problems quickly arrive early on, as soon after focusing on the citizens of Suburbicon thrown into disarray due to an African-American family joining the thriving community (one that proudly claims “diversity”, accepting people from the world all over including New York and Ohio), Matt Damon’s Gardner (a family man that works at some type of large corporation) is abruptly introduced into the movie during a nighttime sequence that sees his home invaded by mobster robbers along with his disabled wife (tragically paralyzed from a car accident) murdered. Not that trailers and marketing matter (no one should take them as an accurate representation of a film), but Gardner surprisingly is not as heroic as viewers might assume heading into Suburbicon, and that’s fine. Everyone enjoys a good twist in a well-written thriller, except this is more like a poorly designed curveball with barely explained motivations. Worst of all, the two narratives never intersect beyond a thinly sketched, darkly humorous theme of “isn’t it funny that all these white people are protesting outside a black family’s abode for entering their community when right across the street is an idyllic Caucasian family going through multiple sinister turns of events right beneath their noses?”.
Look, no one will deny that 1950s America was an incredibly racist time period against African-Americans (hell, current-day America can still be pretty damn racist), but the story arc of the Meyers family is so insignificant and superfluous it feels absolutely pointless. Beyond their child that makes a friend playing baseball with Gardner’s son, there is no reason to invest in any of this beyond surface level “racism is bad”storytelling. The characters are explored so little and given a disappointingly equal amount of screen time, so much so that it feels like entire portions of their narrative were outright cut from the film. I actually opened up IMDB to doublecheck that I was using the correct spelling of ‘Meyers’ as it appears in Suburbicon, and sadly had to dig through the entire cast to find out. Keep in mind, the page lists the actors in the order that they are credited/deemed important.
Unfortunately, even if one were to erase that entire subplot, Suburbicon is still a messy and predictable thriller that isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. The majority of its surprises can be seen coming from miles away, while the few unexpected beats occur in the beginning. Furthermore, the set-up makes Gardner so unlikable and detestable that it’s not even fun being around him. Julianne Moore gets a similar amount of scenes but seeing as she is the traditional 1950s American housewife she doesn’t exactly get much material to work with.
On the positive side, the direction from George Clooney and stellar work from those in the wardrobe department do a terrific job at recreating the era’s appropriate clothing (business suits, blouses, old-fashioned garments all are pleasant to look at). Suburbicon is also deliberately captured outside in such a way that resembles visual aesthetics from classic pure television shows (complete with mailmen smiling from ear to ear). Heightening the atmosphere is a fittingly whimsical score from outstanding composer Alexandre Desplat (another key component in a film that had all the ingredients to be something special). The story is simply just far too much of a disaster to work with the satirical tone.
For all its flaws and frustrations, it is admittedly easy to say that Suburbicon is entertaining trash, mostly thanks to a second act that introduces a character played by Oscar Isaac along with a third act that descends into violence and chaos. Then there’s the final scene of the film, which is touching but deserves to be in a far better film, preferably one that understands how to reach its point in a coherent manner that doesn’t abandon side stories and is aware of how to mix polar opposite tones.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com