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Film Review – Suburbicon (2017)

Even people who don’t pay attention to the film industry know the name George Clooney.  Now, he has once again returned to the director’s chair for his latest feature film, Suburbicon!  Set in a Nuketown-like setting before the nuke dropped, Suburbicon attempts to be a biting, dark comedy with a sadistic edge.  The following review will be spoiler free.

Suburbicon

Synopsis

Directed By: George Clooney

Written By: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov

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

Gardner Lodge (Damon) and his family live in the peaceful town of Suburbicon, a quiet, wholesome place of residence.  However, in the summer of 1959, Lodge’s wife (Moore) is killed by a couple of mobsters, leading his son Nicki (Jupe) to have serious thoughts about leaving the family for a safer life.  Unfortunately for Nicki and everyone else involved, this violent act is just the beginning of a story that is full of deceit, murder, and a tad of social commentary.

Background

As with most films with some type of studio push behind them, Suburbicon has been worked upon for quite some time now.  In fact, the Coen brothers wrote a first draft of the script in 1986 soon after the release of Blood Simple.  Changes were made off and on to the script, but no serious news regarding the property was announced until 2005 when George Clooney announced that he would star and direct the film with the Coen brothers on in producer roles.

Obviously, it took some more time for the film to get off the ground.  People like Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson were even announced to be joining the cast as recently as 2015.

Now that 2017 has rolled around, Suburbicon has taken its last form, boasting an impressive cast.  However, there’s just one thing that remains curious, why didn’t the Coens choose to direct?  At this point, the Coens have enough clout in Hollywood to get whatever movie they want made.  Basically, they can do whatever they want at any time.  If they felt comfortable with the script, wouldn’t they choose to go ahead and direct it themselves?

Suburbicon Succeeds at Recreating a 1950’s Feel…and that’s About It

There are many fundamental flaws in Suburbicon that we will get to in due time, but one of the few things that this movie gets right is replicating a 1950’s feel.  The greatness of this idea is within the finer details.  The set designers even used a Zenith Flash-matic remote for the television.  Only about 0.1% of readers will actually understand what that is, but the fact that it’s an old item that forced you to do a Google search proves that those involved with this film really did their best to form a nice replica.

Everything from the clothes, to the decor, to certain mannerisms, to the excessive use of white bread screams 1959.  Those that enjoy the very fine details of film will find little morsels of brilliance to latch onto.  For that select few of people, it’ll help to distract from some other really ugly pieces of Suburbicon.

A Jumbled Mess of a Narrative

For the actual story of Suburbicon, well, that’s another story entirely.  This movie tries to jumble so many different ideas.  Sometimes, it tries to be murder mystery.  Other times, it’s a social commentary.  It even attempts to be a comedy on occasion.  These elements intermixed in the worst type of ways, blending together to create cringe-worthy moments that will make you squirm in your seat.  The humor mixes in with the other elements in  way that can only be described as very, very awkward.

There’s four screenwriters with credits on this film, and it certainly feels like it.  So many elements just come out of nowhere and are for no good reason.  The actors are doing a solid job in their roles (Oscar Isaac is a standout in an otherwise lifeless film), but their efforts are in service of nothing that’s entertaining or thought provoking.  Suburbicon tries to be serious as well as funny, but neither is satisfying.

To top it all off, Suburbicon is just plain boring.  The trailer pitched this movie as a wacky, dark comedy.  However, aside from a few moments of incredibly awkward attempts at humor that are few and far between, the events of the film are played very straight.  There’s no whimsy or pizzazz to power the film’s narrative.  Instead you’re left to watch an underdeveloped, uninteresting story about largely unlikable people.

Suburbicon Could Even be Described as Appalling

As if the above transgressions weren’t bad enough, Suburbicon throws in a side-story about race and that is unbelievably unpleasant.  No discussion of race should be sugarcoated.  The best movies about race relations are the ones that make people uncomfortable.  At its core, it’s a conversation that should raise some eyebrows.  But, Suburbicon misses the mark completely in this regard.  Rather than having the race section of the movie become the centerpiece, it’s relegated to the sidelines with little to no connective tissue with the actual plot.

Rather than have any type of cartharsis or even some semblence of a message behind it, we’re left to watch a town full of white people terrorize a black family to unbelievable lengths.  The film tries to have it tie in with the main story that involves Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, but there isn’t nearly enough time devoted to it.  Instead, this element feels closer to a preachy non sequitur than a worthy dialogue.

There might have been some thoughtful intentions behind this idea, but it clearly did not come to fruition.

Final Thoughts

Suburbicon is a serious, serious misfire.  The acting and scenery are just fine, but when you strip those elements away and just focus on the story, you realize that this is actually a shell of a film.  Filled with bizarre choices from a writing and directing perspectiveSuburbicon is an unlikable, boring slog.  It gets a D.

George Clooney has made some solid movies in the past, but this movie in particular is a pretty serious step back for his directing career.  It makes the cardinal sin of not only being a bad film, but becoming even somewhat reprehensible.  After viewing the film, it’s easy to see why the Coens didn’t want to direct.

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Nick Kush

A current young professional, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

15 Responses

  1. As always, your reviews are an enjoyable read but I cannot agree with your conclusions. There are many faults in this film, but it is also an audacious way to frame the bigger story about conservative white America. I believe it is being misread by the masses and the twin-plot muddle actually makes the audience complicit in seeing the bigger issue of systemic racism as a background story while the domestic white crime gets all the attention. I enjoyed it.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it but I still can’t agree with you lol (this happens way too often). Let’s say for the sake of argument that everything you just said is right, it’s still too dull of a movie to recommend. It’s neither hard-hitting or entertaining, leaving its supposed message to be heard by deaf ears that tuned out 30 minutes ago.

      As always, however, I appreciate your thoughts! It’s fun to debate film without being called a moron ?

      • Always up for a debate Nick. Words like dull, hard-hitting and entertaining are of course highly subjective, while criticisms like narratively confused etc can be substantiated. I saw this in a fairly full cinema and sensed full engagement with the film right to the end. I’m perplexed at the intensity of the virulent criticism from all quarters when I know this is far from the worst film of 2017. Why is Clooney so hated?

      • Nick Kush says:

        I’m not sure why Clooney is hated (i for one like him very much). But, going back to the “substantial” argument. I would argue that the two narrative threads are so disconnected that making the leap to say that that has something to do with its thematic elements is more of guess than fact. Sure, there’s always room for ambiguity in films, but something was missing here that just didn’t allow the film to be cohesive.

      • I will have one more attempt to sway you then retreat. The twin plotlines is genius but confusing. It forces the audience to engage with the more detailed but cliched murder mystery while literally only glancing over the fence at the horrors being heaped on the Mayer family. The escalating attacks on the Mayers is rendered mere background noise, just like the racist attacks that occur across America (and elsewhere) on a daily basis. Both plots are home invasions and both show the hypocrisy of middle class conservatism. I cannot see how the word ‘dull’ applies when both stories kept tension rising to the closing credits.

      • Nick Kush says:

        See this is one of those situations were I really like how you thought that through but I just fundamentally disagree lol. Maybe we just have different ways of looking at film!

  2. Steve says:

    Trailer doesn’t look so bad (I’ve seen worse) but then again I guess that’s the point of a trailer to trick you into spending your money on garbage 😉

    Out of curiosity, sincere question since you’ve done your homework, how does a fellow like you or me, neither of us having been alive anywhere near the fifties, judge the accuracy of a film’s portrail of the decade? You mentioned the remote, but I’m curious about the process you go through in researching these films. Always a joy to read here

    • Nick Kush says:

      It’s definitely more a “feel” type of scenario there were a movie gives off a more authentic feel than others. You can definitely tell when one film does it better than another, yanno?

      • Steve says:

        I definitely feel it, but how do I (we) know how accurate our “feels” are, being that our only exposure to the 50s has been from television and the movies? Just a head game I play with myself sometimes, because unless you were there, you really don’t know how something was – sometimes you don’t know even if you were there! 😉

      • Nick Kush says:

        It’s very true! Idk it felt pretty good to me! I was really reaching to give this film any positives to begin with lol

      • Steve says:

        It really was that bad huh? Wow…

      • Nick Kush says:

        It’s pretty dreadful. I was really looking forward to this one too. Ohh well…

    • Nick Kush says:

      Also, that’s why MoviePass is so great lol

  3. I’ll be sure to give this one a miss!

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