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 neighbourhood, 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 Roses twin sister), Margaret, also played by Moore. Rose is blonde and in a wheelchair, while Margaret is a brunette. (The hair colour becomes relevant later in the film.) Noah befriends the new neighbours’ 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’s, Matt Damon.
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 neighbour storyline, to a film about neglected children. One of the white neighbours even utters the words “We shall overcome,” when referencing how they will deal with the black neighbours… 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. But I would caveat that with wait and see it after it comes out on DVD.
Suburbicon opens in Irish cinemas on November 24th.
Review by Milo Denison, a Dublin photographer and videographer and one of the founders of No-Budget, a show for independent filmmakers. Click on the link to discover more: http://youtube.com/c/NoBudgetShow