UK Release Date: 24th November 2017
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Glenn Fleshler, Alex Hassell, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe
Synopsis: An oddball home invasion leaves a man without his wife and now living with her twin sister, but soon the insurance company begins to get suspicious about what happened.
Many of the most celebrated Coen Brothers movies are from their early, gritty days. Dark, noirish thrillers like Fargo and Blood Simple are still held up as being at the top end of the Coen oeuvre. Suburbicon was originally written in the midst of this mid-80s period, but put to one side as a result of its similarity to their other movies at the time. Three decades later, George Clooney and his writing and producing partner Grant Heslov have picked up the script and added a timely race relations spin to the basic story. The result is a rather ugly mess of a movie that cannot contain its own weirdness.
The core Coen ingredients are certainly there, with the story set in an idyllic suburban community. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) lives with his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their son in one of many identical homes. A pair of thuggish robbers (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) break into their home one evening, taking the entire family hostage, including Rose’s twin sister Margaret (Moore again). When Rose ends up dead, the family is plunged into grief until an insurance inspector (Oscar Isaac) arrives, with suspicion on his mind.
That’s the core, Coen-centric nub of the plot, but Clooney chooses to embellish Suburbicon with an under-cooked additional subplot. At the same time as Damon’s family is falling apart, a black family move into the previously all-white area. This causes a stir and ultimately leads to a full-on, uncomfortably Charlottesville-esque riot outside the family’s home. The two plots never seem to intersect in any meaningful way and the race relations material is terribly under-written, with no real resolution and no sense of any character for the family other than the colour of their skin.
It’s a strange addition to a very strange movie. The fingerprints of the Coens are obviously all over the home invasion plot and the subsequent questions about a potential conspiracy. Unfortunately, it’s immediately obvious why the brothers left this one to gather dust as it lacks the edge and nastiness of their most potent material. The storytelling is convoluted and Damon is like a rabbit trapped in the headlights of a role he has no idea how to approach. Julianne Moore, meanwhile, manages to conjure two baffling performances for the price of one.
By the time Suburbicon comes together for a deliberately wild and chaotic final act, it has completely checked out from anything approaching logic. It’s emblematic of a film that’s never quite sure of its identity. The notion of parodying cartoonish 1950s suburbia is old hat at this point and Clooney and Heslov have a habit of pulling punches when they should be embracing complete darkness. This is Coen-lite and it probably should’ve stayed buried.
Pop or Poop?
George Clooney is clouded by his love for the Coens in Suburbicon, which feels like a loving homage to their work that doesn’t really understand what makes it so successful. The performances are varying levels of bizarre and the multiple narrative strands feel like they’re from completely different movies.
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