Suburbicon (2017)

  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Mystery
  • Director: George Clooney
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac

Storyline:

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns…the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.

3 reviews

  • (RATING: ☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: C

    THIS FILM IS MILDLY RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: A murder thriller that would have been better as a dark comedy that satirizes the idealized American way of life.

    SYNOPSIS: Life in a 60’s suburban community is thrown off-kilter.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 44 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: A good movie trailer peaks the interest of the moviegoer without giving away too much of the plot and characters. It only shows a glimpse of what one could expect from the full length feature without divulging the reveal. So why, you may ask, do I begin this review with that fact? The coming attraction to Suburbicon totally mislead the viewer into thinking this film to be a dark satirical comedy with a 60’s vibe to that era and its cookie-cutter utopia. And that is unfortunate. A dark comedy with farcical elements would have made this film a refreshing antidote to the drama that unfolds.

    The Coen Brothers are known for their offbeat satirical vision with their quirky characters, ironic situations, and their flip side of American life. Yet Suburbicon is only partly a Coen Brothers film. The movie is based on an old unfinished script by the directors and readapted by others, namely director George Clooney and Glenn Heslov. Their first misstep in updating that original screenplay (among many) is adding a story of racial unrest to a plot involving a murder scheme devised by a doofus. The two storylines never quite mesh.

    It’s all in the tone, how words are expressed and actions exemplified. For a farce to work and get across its message by means of absurdity, everything and everybody must be over exaggerated and unknowingly act in an universal reality. In this film, most of the characters play out their caricatures as Norman Rockwell stick figures without much embellishment. But the script never goes into over-the-top mode. It’s as bottled-up as its main character. The outlandish set-ups are played too seriously and the film resembles second-tier Hitchcock (right down to Alexandre Desplat’s ominous but intrusive score and images right out of Vertigo, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and The Trouble with Harry. The artistic craftsmanship is there on the screen, but the movie never lets loose.(The production values and period details are top notch and the film’s biggest asset.)

    Matt Damon plays Gardner Lodge, an American dad caught up in his own sins. The actor has a strong scene with his son (a wonderful Noah Jupe) toward the end of the film, but Mr. Damon never goes full gonzo to establish the character’s mad streak and desperation. He plays his character straight and resembles a Jerry Lundergaard (from Fargo) without the humor. Julianne Moore plays dual roles as his wife Rose and his dim-witted sister-in-law, Margaret. She nicely embodies the “Stepford Wife / Wicked Stepmother” persona. Also on hand are Gary Basaraba as an odd Uncle Mitch and Oscar Isaac as a slick insurance auditor who brings the right degree of comedy and menace that this film sorely needs, but Mr. Isaac’s performance enters the film too late and only shows the expectations that the movie could have achieve with more rewrites.

    A secondary subplot of an African-American family moving in next door seems an afterthought to the murder mystery plot. (The aforementioned trailer never even hints at this premise.) Their invasion into this all-white housing complex with its perfectly manicured lawns and multiple ranch style dwellings does confirm the ugliness of racism rather effectively, but this narrative does little to advance Gardner’s story-line, even though Mr. Clooney does some clever directorial touches to build suspense.

    Suburbicon wants to draw attention to a world that may appear to be perfect is less so. But instead the filmmakers show that their film is imperfect to say the least.

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  • This operatic black comedy sets two neighbouring stories in an idyllic 1959 American suburb.
    The opening real estate commercial sells the new neighbourhood as a secure, safe, self-contained American Eden. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where the mailman knows everyone by name.
    When an African-American family move in, the white bigotry is at first played as comedy. Here it’s the whites who ardently beg for the right to live there and avow: “We shall overcome.” Director George Clooney assumes we assume that modern America has left ‘50s prejudice and complacency long behind.
    But maybe not. The black family’s neighbours demand the community build a fence to hide them from their view, a fence the families won’t have to pay for. Sound familiar? Clooney’s 1959 fable of racism and white corruption is a projection of Trump’s America, fence and all. America then is America now. This twinning repeats in Julianne Moore playing both sisters.
    The neighbours’ outrage swells, from refusing to serve the woman in the supermarket, through an assault by noise and rage, and finally mob violence.
    In the second story a young white family man and executive Gardner Lodge initially seems the victim of a home invasion, which kills his wife (whom he crippled in a car accident). Turns out he and his sister-in-law have contracted the two thugs to murder his wife. They plan to cash in on her insurance and escape to Aruba. This neat scheme balloons into a grand guignol order of murders. Indeed even the All-American milk and PBJ on sliced white proves poisonous.
    The two stories connect through the two families’ young sons. They become friends, playing baseball. The African American Andy gives the white Nicky a garter snake. They talk through the old tin-cans-on-a-string phone. In the last scene the two boys play catch across their backyard fence, while the pallid infestation of bungalows spreads out to the horizon.
    The boys playing could be an image from the ad. But the innocence is gone. The Gardners, the wife’s siblings, the thugs, the corrupt insurance investigator, all are dead. The snake survives, an innocent reminder of the fall from Eden. Here it’s the people not the snake that are the threat to innocence. Even the shrewd insurance investigator — who should be the film’s agent of justice — proves a greedy self-serving fraud, whose falsehood deserves his death by a lye.
    Can we grab hope from the two boys’ friendship? Not really. One is an orphan; the other is still in that threatened family. Anyway, we know that sixty years later the film’s dynamic continues to play out. The corrupt, violent white society blames the innocent blacks for all their issues, failures, moral compromises. In the film, while the neighbourhood whites assail the black family, the murderous fraud in their own midst unspools unchecked.
    Clooney directs films with a political bite: The Monuments Men, The Ides of March, Leatherheads, Good Night and Good Luck, going back to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. This new work undermines Trump’s nostalgia for the lost “great” America by exposing the fraud, corruption and racism that remain powerful enough to have elected him. Like Trump, this idyllic suburbia is a con.

  • Hitchcock is the most copied film director. Suburbicon keeps the tradition going by throwing in so many unrelated references to the director through lighting, shadows, camera angles, music and physical bits that it’s confusing. Suburbicon’s director is someone I thought knew better but obviously doesn’t. This movie is also a great big misfire in tone. There are two movies here, the bigotry story and the family murder mystery, and they could each have stood on their own.
    The bigotry plot line is straight forward with no tricks or gimmicks. There is an enormous problem with dialog because there’s almost none in this story but the actions make up for that. The family is stoic. The crowd tries to force them to move by twisting up the Constitution to somehow support what they want to do, live in an all-white town. It’s all very relevant to today and it is all very well done. It doesn’t end with a major resolution but, as only the third time the two plots combine, it is a nice look into the future where mob violence, threats, and intimidation will not control our society.
    The murder story, even though it gets a lot more dialog, never looks right. This is because of tone. This story looks like it was a comedy and then someone changed their mind. The opening sequence is humorous visually and musically. Every once in a while something would happen that was obviously meant to be funny but was down played so it didn’t get any laughs. They even play up the comedy in the previews before the movie opened which made the let down all that more disappointing. Even with that, the story could have been an excellent black humor piece if they had gone with it.
    This is where the Hitchcock references started to get in the way. These bits didn’t grow out of the story but were placed in the story often to jarring effect rather than building suspense. Just adding Hitchcock references doesn’t mean they work the same way they did in their original and the soundtrack for Suburbicon was the biggest offender. Without copying the actual notes the scoring sounds like Hitchcock through rhythms, volume, and pauses. The music set us up for Hitchcock reference but the action came off as pale imitation.
    I give Saburbican 2 baseball gloves out of 5. The only reason it gets this much is because the sets, costumes, food, and even the make-up was perfect for the time period. There’s an old saying for stage musicals, “No one goes home whistling the set.” and it hold true here as well. The elements they got so right don’t carry plot or tension. No matter how perfect they were they cannot save this movie.

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