Jurj Clooners George Clooney and with a script from Grant Heslov, the Coen Brothers and Clooney himself, the fifties-set Suburbicon takes place in a seemingly perfect American neighbourhood but one night, two dangerous men invade the home of Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore), son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Rose’s twin sister Margaret (also Moore), culminating in death of Rose, and soon after the ordeal, Nicky starts to notice strange things as his father and aunt begin to spend a lot more time together and it appears as though the home invasion may very well have been planned for insurance money purposes. And while all this is happening, racial tensions and hate begin to reach boiling point as a black family moves in to the all-white neighbourhood.
Suburbicon‘s biggest problem is its story and directorial tone; I think I read somewhere that this film was to be a Coen Brother directed film but then George Clooney and Grant Heslov came on board later on and if this is true, then that would explain the film’s incoherent narrative and uncertain tone, making an attempt at some Coen Brother style comedy but failing miserably in raising a smile or laugh – maybe there were “too many cooks” in this case, an example of conflicting ideas and visions being detrimental to the overall product. Although Suburbicon admittedly has a handful of shocking, unexpected moments, the story is ultimately dull as dishwater, quite forgettable as it doesn’t give us anything that we haven’t seen before – it’s a good ol’ Double Indemnity inspired tale of insurance fraud, mob dealings, secret affairs and murder. Parts of it are just a bit too hard to properly understand (just who Matt Damon owes money to is a particularly muddled part of the story) and overall, there are just a few too many half baked, half-hearted ideas in this film.
And in the background of all this, there’s a totally different film going on as the arrival of a black family in the all-white suburbia leads to some fence building (see Fences), prejudice and racially charged violence. The two separate narrative strands do kind of tie in with each other, looking at how a seemingly perfect community/family can be hiding some dark secrets, coupled with the idea that the children of both families have to suffer through some horrible goings on, but overall, the two storylines seem unaware of each other’s existence and this “two films in one” problem (the racism subplot is actually superior) results in an overall rocky story. Plus, the “dark side of suburbia” theme has been looked at more successfully in films like Blue Velvet and Edward Scissorhands.
The cast is fine, though nothing especially spectacular; Matt Damon carries the film quite well, managing to be particularly nasty at times, Noah Jupe is very good as the son, a cut above your average child performance, and Julianne Moore is as reliable and engaging as always, playing dual roles (boy, that’s certainly a thing nowadays) and infusing her Aunt Margaret character with an air of threatening menace and cool confidence, essentially a toned down version of the character she played in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Additionally, Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell are impressively unsettling, threatening and scary as the home invaders and Oscar Isaac manages to steal every second of screen time that he has, playing the cocksure insurance agent with tons of charisma and nailing every one of his lines.
The film’s design is on the money and the score fits in really well, instilling a palpable sense of danger when required – it was so satisfying to see that the great Alexandre Desplat was behind it all.