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New Release Review - SUBURBICON

suburbicon review
A 1950s' suburbanite attempts to cover up the murder of his wife.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: George Clooney

Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe

suburbicon uk poster


Going into George Clooney's latest film as director, I was unsure which Clooney the filmmaker I was in for. Would it be the Clooney that gave us the elegantly mounted and performed Good Night, and Good Luck, or would it be the Clooney responsible for the disastrous WWII comedy The Monuments Men? I'm sorry to report it's most definitely the latter, as Clooney once again delivers a tonally misjudged dumpster fire.


suburbicon

Reworked by Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov from an unproduced 1986 script by Joel and Ethan Coen, Suburbicon opens with an animated real estate promo that introduces us to the fictional 1950s' suburban community that gives the film its title. It's puzzling then that after going out of its way to place such weight on its setting, the film never provides an adequate reason for why it's set in such a specific location. Perhaps when the Coens wrote their script in 1986, the same year David Lynch's Blue Velvet hit cinemas, the idea of dark doings behind the white picket fences of middle America was a novelty, but now it's simply a cliche.

In its early moments, Clooney's film makes much of the arrival of a black family in the otherwise all-white community, with angry residents holding a neighbourhood meeting in which they make no bones about expressing their racial prejudice. This element quickly fades into the narrative background, only to later pop up conveniently at a pivotal moment that trivialises it in a manner that's borderline offensive. Setting its action in an era when Hollywood was tackling prejudice head on in movies like The Intruder and TV shows like the Twilight Zone episode 'The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street' does Suburbicon no favours either. Compared to such works, Suburbicon has as much to say about racism as The Monuments Men had to say about the Holocaust.


suburbicon

The main plot of Suburbicon focusses on Matt Damon's Gardner Lodge, whose short-sleeved white shirt and tie suburban Dad outfit is as deep as characterisation goes here. Along with his sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore), Gardner arranges for a pair of thugs to fake a home invasion and kill his wheelchair bound wife Rose (also Moore), Margaret's twin sister, so the two lovers can abscond with the insurance money. When Gardner's young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) puts two and two together and cottons on to what really happened to his mother, and the thugs give him an ultimatum to silence his son, Gardner and Margaret realise they've bitten off more than they can chew. The situation isn't helped by the arrival of a suspicious insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac).

A comedy thriller that's neither funny nor thrilling, Suburbicon fails to juggle these two elements in the way the Coens no doubt originally intended. With its roster of cartoon characters, it plays like a filmmaker attempting and failing to ape the Coens' unique style, much like this year's Steven Soderbergh caper Logan Lucky. The cartoonish nature of the main murder plot jars badly with the scenes of racial animosity, and it's difficult to take the film seriously when it seems so disinterested in taking itself seriously. Alexandre Desplat's string heavy Bernard Herrmann influenced score clashes heavily with the comic capers on screen.


suburbicon

Perhaps the main problem with Suburbicon as a thriller is its lack of perspective. It can't seem to decide who its protagonist is, at times asking the audience to identify with the hapless Gardner, who is too despicable and frankly uninteresting for us to care about, while at other times it places Nicky front and centre, like an Invaders from Mars remake with the sci-fi element removed. Both characters are too thinly-sketched for us to care about, and the movie's confusing final note would have irritated me a lot more if I wasn't already completely disengaged by that point.

Suburbicon is in UK/ROI cinemas November 24th.



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