Set in a fictional suburban community called Suburbicon, two things happen almost simultaneously; first, a new family who happen to be African-American move to the town, causing the all-white residents to increasingly antagonise the family. Second, Rose Lodge, wife of Gardner and mother to Nicky, is murdered. However, with this latter event, not all in Suburbicon is above board as things on both sides seem to unravel incredibly quickly.
On the surface, Suberbicon looked to be a very familiar type of noir, one that reflected the nihilistic tales found in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, who actually wrote the script for the film in 1986 after their debut smash Blood Simple. The story is remarkably similar to the film that would place them in the pantheon of American filmmakers, Fargo. However, this movie seems to lack a particular element that the Coens have in spades, and that is a focus. It wants to juggle this noir plot with a meaningful comment on American prejudice and a child investigating a murder. It fails to do any of this, and in fact, the story elements seem unbalanced the film; they were actually added by Clooney and writing partner Grant Heslov.
The main problem I have with Suburbicon is that it tries to do so much but doesn’t really carry anything to fruition; it skirts around the issues that it raises. For instance, it starts with the Mayers and how Nicky Lodge befriends Andy Mayers. From that introduction you think that the film may be about that, or how Nicky has to figure out who killed his mother and why, but instead we tread the same ground in Blood Simple and Fargo. Now I am not saying that Clooney and Heslov didn’t have noble intentions in including this part, but the seams are showing and it looks a bit like a cut and shunt job. The film has some intriguing things to say about race relations, the American dream, the American family and American history, but say these are issues that require their own movie to talk about or at least someone with the writing talent to put all of these elements together coherently. Essentially don’t try to say too much too quickly in one or it will fall flat.
The film is well acted, with performances from a whole host of stars like Matt Damon and Julianne Moore providing the heavy hitting as classical Hollywood stars would have done in the 1950s. Damon himself, as Gardner Lodge, slowly unravels as his best-laid plans come unstuck, while Julianne Moore does some real acting gymnastics, not only pulling double duty as twin sisters Rose and Maggie, but also in providing a grounded emotional core in this ostensibly grim-dark farce. It also has a great visual style, with an eye for that kitschy 1950s aesthetic. However, though these things are good, it is truly disappointing that these talented people are trying to shore up cracks in the foundation of a film that is structurally flawed. Sadly, all of that counts for nought when the story runs tired beats that may have been original back in 1986 but after 30 years of Coen seem a bit stale.
Suburbicon, is a fine movie, and one that I would recommend if there weren’t anything else on at the pictures. But be warned, it is also a tired collection of Coen cliche and other elements that don’t properly mesh together making this a film that is structurally unsound.
You can watch Suburbicon in cinema’s now