Review: Suburbicon

Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe, Glenn Fleshler, Megan Ferguson
Released: October 26, 2017
Grade: C+

Suburbicon
The first few minutes of this film had me thinking it was a remake of the brilliant 1998 comedy, Pleasantville.  It takes us to the 1950s and an idyllic community where everything is perfect – at least when looking through the eyes of the residents.  The houses are beautifully presented, the kids play in the street, and the adults smile and politely chat to all who walk past.  It’s not a world with which I am familiar.

It’s not long before we realise there’s a much darker undercurrent within the neighbourhood.  An African American family moves into one of the homes and this infuriates the all-white townsfolk who voice their disapproval at the Suburbicon Betterment Committee.  They may as well just call themselves the Kl Klux Klan given their actions and ridiculous mindset.  They will stop at nothing to have all black people kicked out of the suburb.

As all that goes on, a second story is told.  It’s given more weight and more air time.  Gardner Lodge (Damon) is a prominent businessman trying to grapple with the loss of his wife (Moore).  Her death was no accident.  She was given a lethal dose of drugs by two burglars who broke into their home.  Gardner, his son (Jupe), and his sister-in-law (also Moore) were also subdued as part of the robbery but lived to tell the tale.

Suburbicon began as a screenplay from the highly acclaimed Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, No Country for Old Men).  They didn’t get the chance to bring it to the screen (perhaps because they were working on better projects) and so it was picked up and modified by George Clooney and his writing-producing partner, Grant Heslov.  These two have combined previously to make films such as Leatherheads, The Ides of March and the Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck.

In describing this movie, it’s hard to come up with a better adjective than “disappointing”.  You’d expect better given the calibre of the cast and crew.  The fault lies with the screenplay as it struggles to blend these two distinctive stories.  The part involving the African American family is laughably inadequate.  I can’t even recall a scene where the husband and wife share a conversation.  It’s mostly footage of protestors yelling, screaming and banging. 

The Matt Damon-led narrative appears to be the piece that originated from the Coen brothers’ first draft screenplay.  It wants to be a gritty, complex dark comedy but aside from a handful of unexpected twists, it’s not particularly funny or engaging.  A rare highlight arrives when Oscar Isaac, playing an insurance investigator, sits down for coffee and a chat with Julianne Moore’s character.  Aside from that, most of the dialogue is ho-hum. 

George Clooney has something to say in Suburbicon… I’m just not exactly sure what that is.