Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review: Suburbicon

Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. George Clooney / Trailer

"Hey guys! Have you ever noticed how creepy and disquieting that whole 'picture-perfect 1950s Americana' thing is, when you stop to look real close at it?"

~ pretty much all media, from around 1961 onwards.

Arriving in our cinemas like a flustered latecomer bearing flowers from a garage forecourt is director George Clooney with Suburbicon, starring Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge, an office clerk living in the idyllic L.A. suburbs with his young son Nicky (Noah Jupe), wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and her sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore). When their house is burgled and the robbers inadvertently end up killing Rose, the family are drawn into a web of suspicion and corruption, while racial tensions flare in the neighbourhood around them.

The film has been adapted by Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov from a Coen Brothers script which dates back to 1986, and has had George's name attached to the project for the last twelve years. This staggered production pace certainly seems to have affected the movie's momentum on its journey, as the final product bears all the hallmarks of the Coens with little of the precision or wit. From the off, it's clear that Suburbicon has a far darker heart than the trailer suggests, but the dryness constantly vies for attention with the Quirky-Comedy™ aspects of the screenplay, and the two don't always sit well together.

The 1950s kitsch seems unduly exaggerated, and the outward 'sunny normality' of the setting isn't well enough established to offset the outright racism running in the sub-plot from the very beginning. In fact, the Lodge family's neighbours - the first Afro-Caribbean family to move into the previously-entirely Caucasian neighbourhood - seem to have their bare-bones story told in a parallel film that's been dropped into the edit, and while their characters occasionally interact with the main protagonists, the plot-strands themselves barely touch. Ordinarily, the decline in both family's fortunes would be used as a thematic counterpoint, their problems mirroring and contrasting. In Suburbicon, it just feels like there's a separate movie running on the next street.

There are some neat ideas, and it's clear what the screenplay was originally going to be, although making out what it became is a little harder. As with 2014's The Monuments Men, George Clooney brings a directorial softening which feels out of place telling a story which is, by definition, unpleasant. He's certainly got that 'Golden Age of Hollywood' touch, it's just not compatible here. Many of the quips and gags which worked well at the pace of the trailer are left floundering in a feature over an hour and a half long.

Julianne Moore and Matt Damon are as strong as the screenplay will allow, although their screen-son Noah Jupe brings the most complex and genuine performance of the whole movie (which I realise is very probably intentional, but with Clooney's direction one can never be sure). Oscar Isaac does well here as a slightly slimy insurance-claims investigator, but seems to be playing the part in the precise way that Clooney would have. I'm not sure if this is flattery on the actor's part, or narcissism on the director's. But the fact is that everyone else (and to a certain degree, Moore and Damon as well) feels half-written; cover-versions of Coen Bros characters intended for bit-part roles in a parody of a pastiche.

Suburbicon is an intriguing project, but it feels like the writers, director and editor all wanted to make different types of film. And to no uncertain extent, they succeeded...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
George Clooney is hoping against hope you like things by the Coen Brothers.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
It's a bit of a DVD-night-in, to be honest.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Not as well as it should and could.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Poe Dameron's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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