DIR: George Clooney • WRI: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov • PRO: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Teddy Schwarzman • DOP: Robert Elswit • DES: James D. Bissell • Ed: Stephen Mirrione • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • CAST: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba
The greatest comedy can come from the darkest of situations; reflecting on the violence and tragedy that humankind inflicts on ourselves it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than pure bewilderment at its absurdness. At that point, what can you do but laugh? The Coen Brothers’ best work are generally rooted in this strange juxtaposition. Unfortunately, even the best quality clay can be moulded into something clunky and unappealing by unskilled hands. George Clooney is not a man devoid of skills, but Suburbicon proves that acting in good films does not qualify one to direct them. Despite being chock-full of interesting ideas, the film fails to bring them together to make something comprehensible or enjoyable.
Set in the titular Suburbicon, a 1950s all-white neighbourhood with perfect houses, perfect gardens and perfectly horrible racists, a newly arrived black family, the Meyers, find themselves subject to intimidation and protests. White residents clutch their pearls and speak plainly to news reporters that the lack of racial segregation will surely result in the destruction of their idyllic community. But on the other side of the picket fence, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) finds his family’s veneer of white, Christian wholesomeness beginning to slip. When his wife (Julianne Moore) is murdered during a botched home invasion, seemingly an act of retaliation for the Lodge’s young son (Noah Jupe) having the gall to play with a black child, Gardner becomes entangled with the local mob in order to protect his remaining family. But not everything is at it seems, and not everyone is as guilty or as innocent as they may look. As tensions descend into violence the ugly underbelly of the American suburb is laid bare.
The core concept of the film reads well on paper. Contrasting the experience of the black American family trying to find their way and maintain their dignity in a country that actively works to destroy them to the inherent hypocrisy of the white, nuclear family ideals could make for an engaging and thought-provoking narrative. The problem is, for all of Clooney’s desire to highlight his ‘racism is bad’ message, the Meyers are never given enough characterisation or screen time to be anything more than props for the film, thus diluting the power of their struggle for the audience. Their experience is only the backdrop for the actual story of the film to take place against. But even the main plot of the film feels at times unfocused.
Matt Damon’s performance is suitably intimidating when necessary, but suffers from a lack of consistent characterisation. Julianne Moore, who plays both Gardner’s wife Rose and her twin sister Maggie, drifts through the film, fine but unmemorable. The film works best when it gives itself over wholly to being a screwed-up comedy of errors. It is the supporting cast, such as Gary Basaraba as Uncle Mitch, Glenn Fleshler as the hitman and Oscar Isaac as a brilliantly devious insurance claims investigator, that turn in the best performances and the screen lights up whenever they are on it. Sadly, just as it feels things are properly getting going, the film gets bogged down once more.
Overall, Suburbicon as a whole is not as great as the sum of its parts. Though visually pleasant, if lacking flair, director George Clooney just can’t make the film come together in a way that will elicit an audience reaction other than ‘meh’.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Suburbicon is released 17th November 2017