Matt Damon brings trouble to the once peaceful suburbs in George Clooney’s newest directing effort, ‘Suburbicon’. The miniature housing complex named Suburbicon is home to the town’s elite. It is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns. Overall, the perfect place to raise a family. But in the summer of 1959, amidst the ever-changing landscape, the Lodge family’s plans of a prospering future go out the window. Under 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 to see what’s bubbling its way to the top at the level of the once friendly neighbors. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is ‘Suburbicon’. ‘Suburbicon’ is directed by George Clooney, and is rated R for scenes of violence, adult language and some sexuality.
It’s certainly easy to comprehend and even appreciate the sincere message being played at hand within ‘Suburbicon’, but its jumbled direction and tone deaf presentation within the ever-changing atmosphere, made for one of the more puzzling experiences with a film that I have had in 2017. As a director, Clooney once again goes all in with the context of his audience either grabbing ahold of this plot, or they simply don’t, and while I can appreciate and value a director whose all-in approach can provide the greatest divedends for the chances that he takes, I cannot under any circumstances overlook the aspects in this production that depreciated the value in something that could’ve provided the sharp sting of social commentary. On that respect, the film’s storytelling medium floats somewhere between the past and the present, bringing together the social politics of two different generations to prove that no matter how far beyond we think we’ve advanced as a society, the bigotry of prejudice still subsides in the very same arguments being made today like a passing of the torch from generation to generation.
This is a film so opposite in approach from the continuity of its contextual trailer that I often wondered if I was indeed watching the same film that I was once promised. But this time something entirely different in material makes itself apparent, as the film juggles two different plots that are purposely being played off of one another simultaneously. The first is the household of this Lodge family, whose lives change entirely over the course of one night that leaves the Mother murdered and the Father and Son scrambling to put the pieces back together psychologically. The second and personally more engaging story for me, is a racial divide between the whitely-dominated community and the new black citizens that move into their territory. By themselves, each of these meaty directions could’ve provided an entertaining enough sit, but when they are attached together at the hip, it becomes obvious that one of them greatly suffers due to time constraints; and that’s the second story. For his money, Clooney really has two appealing angles here, but to have each of them serve the same master feels contradictory not only in the two completely different atmospheres that are being accomplished here, but also sacrificial considering the pieces don’t fit together in flow no matter how much the four screenwriters here want them to.
On that perspective, the thought of too many cooks being in the kitchen at once definitely seems clear here, as the vicious tonal shifts that plague the movie required me often to ask of myself what emotion I should carry for each scene. There’s a lot of seriousness as I already mentioned with the plots, but the way Clooney and company approach it as a depiction makes it feel like nothing is being presented with a serious emphasis to propel its urgency. What’s commendable is the material feeding into that train of thought where the most vicious events happen behind picket fences, but everything included feels so watered down by this train of thought that there’s never a moment that the film capitalizes on its provocative appeal. The quirky domination being displayed here certainly pays homage to Coen Brothers comedies (They co-wrote the script), but the key word there is “Comedy”, and that is a version of tone that should never exist in a film about a little boy’s Mother being murdered, or an entire white community that make the lives of a black family a living nightmare.
Not all is a loss however, as Clooney’s stylistic choices for the movie pay a faithful homage to the 50’s and 60’s decor, when the clothes and housing looked unnaturally new from the radiant sunshine reflecting down from above. With the very first seconds of the film, we open up with a commercial for the Suburbicon community that feels corny and artificial in the same vein that television was decades ago. This establishes not only the backstory of the location, but also the benefit of immersing ourselves within this slice of Heaven that no one watching could wait to see for themselves. The cars and houses reflect a faithful value to setting the stage appropriately, and the camera work by Clooney is certainly no slouch to boot. The more you start to pay attention to the way George shoots tension and unfolding circumstance, the more you start to see the sprinkles of wisdom that he bestows upon things like reactions and pausing with speech patterns that really simulate human confrontation wonderfully. The film was rarely an entertaining one in narrative, but the production value that serves as a callback to a far but not forgotten era, was one that an art lover like me could envelope himself in when I found this 100 minute sit to be taxing through scenes that it felt like no one took seriously.
Before I go on, I will say that there are two credible performances in the film, one from Oscar Isaac, and one from the youngest of the Lodge family, Nicky, played by Noah Jupe. Unfortunately, Isaac is only in the film for a couple of scenes, but his invasion gives the film the kind of prestigious boost needed to get it through the final act. Jupe himself is a revelation though. For someone like me who does grade kid performances, Jupe’s felt stirring and very authentic when challenged with the backbone of human emotion that kids his age usually balk at. Unfortunately, the other characters and performances alike are nothing special for the film. Matt Damon phones this performance in because the film gives him little in the way of psychological perspective for him to hang his chops on. Julianne Moore performs double duty as two sisters of the Lodge family, and neither makes her presence as an award winning actress feel credible by design. I say this because Moore is reduced to nothing but a gentle housewife for the entirety of the film, and it undercuts any chance for her to make the role her own. I mentioned that I hated most of the characters in this film, and that’s because there seems to be no moral clause between any of the adults. I think Clooney does this intentionally to see things through the kid’s eyes, but as to where Jupe was our protagonist of sorts for the first two acts, the screenplay virtually silences him for an important third act that is deemed necessary to remind us what hearty characters can be.
THE VERDICT – Clooney and the Coen’s would’ve been better served by leaving ‘Suburbicon’ on the shelf of monotony three years ago where they found it. While the film isn’t anything bad enough to stake a claim amongst Hollywood’s worst, the forced surgery by these four screenwriters who are anything but on the same page leaves the film’s once honorable intentions feeling hollow when swallowed by conflicting directions in narrative and tone that crush its messages. The vibrancy of artistic integrity proves George was the right man for the job, but his finished product feels like he has watched too many Coen Brothers movies to ever serve as the necessary landlord to make this suburbia flourish.