If you write a script 31 years in the past, shelve it and win screenwriting Oscars in the meantime, do you gift your script to George Clooney and tell him to do whatever he wants with it? Sure, if you’re the Coen brothers. That’s how you end up with Suburbicon, a weird Frankenstein’s Movie with no single tone, and ideas that don’t quite meld into a cohesive picture.
The perfect town of Suburbicon is shaken when an unassuming African-American family moves in. The people of Suburbicon are less intrigued after a home invasion sees Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon, The Great Wall), his sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe, TV’s Houdini and Doyle) have their lives fundamentally changed.
Suburbicon starts as if it were a satirical piece, but it loses that thread almost immediately. That it essentially neglects to give its African-American family names shows how little they mean to the overall work, and the storyline that plays out in parallel with that of the Lodge family doesn’t provide much in the way of thematic resonance for the film — it amounts to “what’s happening to these people is bad, but let’s look inside Matt Damon’s house”. This leads to the home invasion, which is far more sinister than what has come before, and feels transplanted from another film. It’s too early to make that call, however, and this is sort of the Suburbicon you’re going to end up with. The film escalates, but never in a supremely logical fashion. There’s a line in there about coincidences stinking, but the entire climax wreaks of them.
Damon plays Gardner with a barely suppressed rage that doesn’t allow for much variety. Moore is the utility player, capable of multiple emotions through a veil of tears. Her role is one of the best written, with the most flesh on its bones. Special mention should be made of Gary Basaraba (The Accountant), who makes a lot out of a little as Uncle Mitch.
Written by the Coen Brothers (Hail, Caesar!) in 1986, and doctored by Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Monuments Men) sometime between 2005 and 2017, Suburbicon treads territory that has been examined by the Coens in the intervening years to perhaps greater effect. There are countless Chekov’s guns littered across the film but this never softens the blow of their arbitrary inevitability. Clooney’s direction pays particular attention to mise-en-scene to the expense of logical and satisfactory narrative flow, a sort of empty aesthetic that offers many moving parts but few that work in harmony. The overeager and intrusive scoring of Alexandre Desplat (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) does not help; there’s definitely not a moment of peace to be found.
Suburbicon is the sort of film that you sell on the basis of the names attached, because it does have pedigree. A thirty-year-old script set sixty years ago has a distinct smell of mothballs, however, and not a lot has been done to make it fresh or iron out its bugs. Perhaps the Coens could have made a better film of Suburbicon, but their friend Clooney has presented a collection of moments that never quite meld.
Suburbicon opened in Australian cinemas on October 26, 2017.
Directed by: George Clooney.
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba and Oscar Isaac.