TL;DR – What a waste of time this film was, save yourself the trouble and go see something else like Thor
Score – 1 out of 5 stars
To give you an overall impression of the film, at the end of the film as the screen faded to black I was stunned by how a film with such a talented cast could be so bad, so I wondered who could have directed that mess. It was at this point when ‘Directed by George Clooney’ popped up on the screen, and I was shocked, because from my experience George is a talented director. However, then I went, ok look no matter who the director is, if the original script was bad there might be not much they could have done to make it a workable film. Well, it was at this point that the writing credits appeared and when I saw Joel Coen, Ethan Coen & George Clooney’s names I audibly gasped in the cinema. I was completely not expecting a film of this level of disaster to be crafted by people that make masterpieces. So you can probably tell from just that what my feeling about Suburbicon was, but today we’ll go into detail about just what went wrong, and there are a lot of things.
So to set the scene, Suburbicon is a town somewhere in Middle America during the 1950s. This was the time of the rise of the suburbs and the edification of the white middle-class nuclear family as the gold standard to inspire too. So within this ‘idealistic’ environment, the absolute worst possible thing that could have happened to the neighbour occurred, an African-American family moved in … gasp. Now while this is the opening scene of the movie, it is actually very incidental to the story, instead, we focus on the Lodge family. The father Gardner (Matt Damon) works in a bank, or a financial institution or, look actually it is not clear what he does, maybe an accountant, honestly I don’t really care. He lives with his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) who is permanently in a wheelchair after a car crash where Gardner was driving, and their son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Also for some reason Rose’s sister Margaret (Julianne Moore) is there as well, ok there is a clear reason but the film will get to that at some point. All is fine and dandy in the world, well bar the before mentioned new African-American family in the neighbourhood, when one night Nicky is woken by his father and taken downstairs. There are men in the house who are here to ‘rob’ the family, and as they are chloroformed Nicky watches as one of the goons kills his mother. Now everything has changed, his aunt is ‘living’ with them, his father is showing signs of extreme stress, those men are still out there, and no one seems to care.
So I’m about to point out how really crap this film is, which is not something I enjoy doing because generally speaking, I don’t think people go out of their way to make an awful film. However, before I do that I do want to mention the couple of positives I did find in this sea of utter shite. First, I think they did a really good job situating the film in its time period, from the cars, to costumes, to the house interiors, to the social views it is all pretty much on point. Secondly, I think Noah Jupe did a bloody good job acting his role, in a film full of A-List stars, he outclassed them all. Finally, I also want to give a shout out to a couple of the supporting cast like, Gary Basaraba who was Uncle Mitch, Jack Conley who was Lt. Hightower, and Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke & Tony Espinosa who played the Mayers family. Ok now we are going to start to dissect the film, and frankly, because some of the problems go throughout the entire film there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
Ok, the question at this point is not what went wrong, it is more how do I triage the critiques to the more important issues, because I could just say every other aspect of the film failed and call it a day. The first issue is the racist attacks on the Mayers family that serves as a subplot throughout the film. At the start, I was intrigued because this is a perfect time to show how awful Middle America can be at times, and still can be today. However, this was only for a moment because it soon became apparent that the film was not actually going to focus on this, which was a real mistake. Showing the dark side of suburbia, and showing all those arguments you hear today from the mouths of little old ladies could have been a powerful statement. Instead, this African-American family subplot only exists so it can be a plot convenience in the final act of the film and to propel the narrative of the rest of the white characters in the film. Why doesn’t everyone in the neighbourhood see Gardner cave Bud Cooper’s (Oscar Isaac) head in with a golf club in the middle of the street after Margret poisoned him, oh because they are all protesting at the Mayers. Why does Gardner not get to the house in time, because he has to drive around the protests, and so on. This relegates what could have been a powerful story to at best a sideshow, but at worst this powerful story exists to be an inconvenience to the rest of the cast, and thus it completely undermines the very point the filmmakers were trying to make.
As well as this, throughout most of the film, I was sitting there wondering what the hell was the point of the film? I am someone who does not mind a slow burn in his films, and not to be a broken record but films like Arrival (see review) do the slow burn majestically, Suburbicon is not one of those films. Indeed, it is not until well over half way through the film that it starts to make any sense what so ever, when we get the police line-up and discover that the Gardner and Margaret are covering for the people that killed Rose. Now instead of being the ‘what the hell’ moment the film was going for, this moment just gained no reaction from me, because by this point I had already checked out of the story and its unlikeable characters. A lot of films these days over foreshadow that’s coming to the point where you would have to be a fool not to see it coming, for example, see Fantastic Four (see review). Well, Suburbicon has the inverse problem for most of the film, I think part of the issue is that they cut a whole chunk from the start of the film including all of Josh Brolin’s character. Because of the slash and hack job, the start of the film feels really uneven, indeed we don’t even meet the father until the robbery. This inconsistent storytelling is throughout the film, and it is a real shame.
Ok time for some rapid fire issues to round us off. Most of the acting in the film is pedestrian or overly clichéd, and it was oddly disappointing to see. I saw Matt Daemon’s pseudo-but in The Martian (see review) I didn’t need to see it again. There is coincidence, and then there is a scriptwriter finding desperate ways to wrap the movie up, and Suburbicon is the later. The film can’t find a consistent tone to save its life. I think Alexandre Desplat’s score will probably work really well away from the film but here it is going for a dissonant vibe, which to be honest the rest of the film does not earn. Also it is really interesting, just how much the trailer misrepresents the story and tone of the film.
So, in the end, do we recommend Suburbicon … no of course not. Honestly, I would not even recommend going see it out of interest in seeing just how bad it is. I think at this point of the year I can guarantee that you will find Suburbicon on my worst films of 2017 list, and given the talent involved in this film, it is frankly a real surprise.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Suburbicon
Directed by – George Clooney
Written by – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney & Grant Heslov
Music by – Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography by – Robert Elswit
Edited by – Stephen Mirrione
Starring – Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba, Glenn Fleshler, Alex Hassell, Oscar Isaac, Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke & Tony Espinosa
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R