Suburbicon – A Quirky Thriller That Can’t Make Up Its Mind

George Clooney returns to directing in this satire of a murder comedy, which is also meant to be a commentary on the modern world. To accomplish this, Clooney has created a story that takes place in 1950s era suburbia. The script was written by Clooney and Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as Grant Heslov, who also directed the George Clooney film The Men Who Stare at Goats.

In Suburbicon, we are treated to an opening scene extolling the virtues of a fictional neighborhood where everyone is friendly, the lawns are immaculate, and, of course, everyone is white. This ‘perfect’ world is interrupted when a new family moves into the neighborhood, a family that just happens to be black.

The audience is then introduced to Nicky, played by Noah Jupe, his mother Rose, played by Julianne Moore, and his aunt (and Rose’s twin sister), Margaret, also played by Moore. Rose is blonde and in a wheelchair, while Margaret is a brunette. (The hair color becomes relevant later in the film.) Noah befriends the new neighbors’ son, Andy, played by Tony Espinosa. And finally, we are introduced to Gardner Lodge, the patriarch of the family, played by another frequent collaborator of Clooney – Matt Damon.

Following Noah’s point of view, we are disturbed one night when the family is awoken by intruders, who kill Rose – setting up the mystery, or perhaps setting up the noir-style thriller that will unfold throughout the film. The story overlaps with the backdrop of an angry mob slowly growing outside the black neighbor’s house. After Rose’s murder, we get the line, “This used to be a safe neighborhood” from one of the neighbors as the father of the black family drives past. Yes, we understand what you are saying about people, George, and friends.

The whole movie seems like it is trying to mislead the viewer by jumping around storylines from the story of why Rose was killed, to a sermon about race with the neighbor storyline, to a film about neglected children. One of the white neighbors even utters the words “We shall overcome,” when referencing how they will deal with the black neighbors… Get it? Of course, you do.

There are some things to like about this film, for example, the cinematography by Robert Elswit, who also worked on The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the production design of James D. Bissell. These two help make up for the weak story by creating a world that perfectly takes us back to an idealized version of 50’s America. The houses in the suburbs are exactly what we would see in a 1950s promo – the heavy cars, each with a perfect shine, the cookie-cutter houses, all these help take us back to this fictional version of America. The acting as well is stellar with Julianne Moore being typically fantastic playing opposite Matt Damon. It is also worth calling out Noah Jupe who as the neglected child in this film does a fantastic job providing us with a sympathetic character to follow.

So, is Suburbicon a story of American hypocrisy on the subject of race, or is it a story of violence and cheating? I think the writers want it to be a bit of everything. They wanted a smart Coen brothers film, while Clooney wanted to make his statement about the social problems going on right now, and they wanted to mix in a murder mystery told from the point of view of a young boy.

We get murder, we get religion, we get race, we get it all in this film. What we don’t get is a story that we can care about. Suburbicon falls flat even with the visual storytelling and performances being top notch. If backed into a corner and asked if I would recommend seeing this movie I would say, yes, it is worth watching.

  • Director:  George Clooney
  • Written by:  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and George Clooney
  • Starring:  Matt Damon and Julianne Moore
  • Rated R
  • Released: Oct. 27th, 2017
  • Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • Budget: $25,000,000 est.

Review by Milo Denison, the author of How to Manage Your Manager and host of podcast The 80s and 90s Uncensored.

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