The town of Suburbicon was the picture-postcard image of the American Dream and wholesome family values for Americans in the 1950s and 60s. No doubt for many, it still is, with its picket fences, perfectly-trimmed lawns, cheery residents, and clean, crime-free streets. But of course, this Norman Rockwell painting come to life is only a utopia if you're white, and so the foundations of this suburban slice of apple pie are rocked when a black family, the Mayers, move in. The chatty and chubby postman suddenly starts to stutter and quickly back away at the sight of them, and neighbours gawk open-mouthed while they water their lawns. Soon enough, town meetings turn to right-wing rallies, Confederate flags start to appear, and the black family find their home surrounded by an angry white mob calling for them to pack up and get out.
Set in 1959, before the Civil Rights Act would make such an occurrence a hate-crime, Suburbicon has plenty of satirical bite and good intentions, but feels like a blender stuffed with half-baked ideas. Strangely enough, the arrival of the Mayers and their subsequent experiences isn't the focus of the film, but instead plays out as a sub-plot, escalating in the background while the main (and way less interesting) story unfolds. Snatched up by George Clooney and writing partner Grant Heslov, Suburbicon was once a canned Coen Brothers project from the 1980s, a story of a shocking crime hidden away behind the plastic smiles of American suburbia, and may have possibly served as the inspiration for the Brothers' 1996 masterpiece Fargo. But Clooney, here directing his sixth feature film - and the first in which he doesn't appear in the front of the camera - is politically-minded and insists on making the film's themes contemporary. The result is an unfocused, all too mannered mess.
Looking much more like your typical resident of Suburbicon, Matt Damon's Gardner Lodge is a bespectacled, slightly overweight family man who lives with his disabled wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe). One night, Nicky is awoken by his father who tells him to get dressed and come downstairs. There waiting are two strange men, who intimidate and humiliate the family before knocking them all out with chloroform. The result of this horrific home invasion is the death of Rose, and the remaining family, including Rose's twin sister Margaret (also Moore), are apparently rocked by the experience. Margaret moves in to offer emotional support, and Gardner stoically tries to get on with things despite everyone offering their condolences at every turn. But is there something more sinister at play? Why does Nicky witness his father visiting his aunt's bedroom late at night and failing to pick the two men (played by Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) out of a line-up when they are apprehended by the police?
Clooney wants you to ask these questions, but the film takes it time to answer them. Suburbicon often plays like a mystery, trying to keep you guessing despite the fun really lying in watching its characters deal with the consequences of their actions. It's far too restrained to be as savage as it needs to be in order to be compelling, and really shines a slight on the Coen's talent for bringing their stories to life. We should be laughing as Gardner's walls close in around him and wincing at his efforts to escape them, but instead we're lumped with figuring out the plot and distracted by the increasingly hostile mob gathering outside the Mayers' place. Thank God then, for Oscar Isaac, who pops up as a charismatic, moustached insurance investigator who doesn't quite buy Gardner and Margaret's game. It's a great role, one I would have expected Clooney himself to play, and livens up the entire movie as it starts to really struggle to handle the many plot-threads. Suburbicon has aspirations to be a movie for the history books: the story of walls, hostility and chaos clearly tie in with Trump's America. But as much as I like him, Clooney isn't the director for such a task, and Suburbicon is too much of a confused slog to pack much of a punch.
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
In the bosom of Suburbicon, a family-centred, all-white utopia of manicured lawns and friendly locals, a simmering tension is brewing, as the first African-American family moves in the idyllic community, in the hot summer of 1959. However, as the patriarch Gardner Lodge and his family start catching a few disturbing glimpses of the once welcoming neighbourhood's dark underbelly, acts of unprecedented violence paired with a gruesome death will inevitably blemish Suburbicon's picture-perfect facade. Who would have thought that darkness resides even in Paradise?
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February 03, 2018 at 05:43 PM