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.
Directed By: George Clooney
Written By: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov
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.
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.
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 perspective, Suburbicon 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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