Review: Suburbicon (2017)

One of the best teams in Hollywood is behind this movie. George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and the Coen Brothers write this film, Heslov and Clooney produce it, and Clooney directs. Heslov and Clooney have been a team for a while, giving us films like Good Night, and Good Luck., Argo, and the Ides of March. Clooney has also had a long relationship with the Coen Brothers, appearing in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Burn After Reading, and a couple more of their films. Suburbicon is just Clooney’s sixth film as a director, but in all of his movies, you can see the influence of the Coen Brothers in his directing. Suburbicon is the first film where all four of these men finally team up, and it seemed like they couldn’t fail.

Julianne Moore and Matt Damon are fantastic

Suburbicon tells the story of two families in the perfect, spotless little town of Suburbicon where nothing bad happens. One night, Nicky is awakened by his father, Gardner Lodge, telling him there are robbers in the house. The two robbers knock Nicky, his father, and his Aunt Margaret unconscious, and kill his mother. The murder of Nicky’s mother rocks the community, Aunt Margaret moves in, and Gardner continues his life working in the town of Suburbicon. Nicky starts to notice things that make him start to wonder who was actually behind his mother’s death. Meanwhile, next door to the Lodge’s, an African-American family moves in, shocking the community even more. Tension increases as the racist people of Suburbicon begin to riot.

The first thing I want to throw out there quickly is not about the movie, so much as how it was advertised. Within the past few years, trailers have begun to include more and more of the plot of the film they advertise. They’re not so much teasing the film as they do give a summary with holes in it – a perfect example would be the last film I reviewed, Marshall. The trailers for Suburbicon, however, do a brilliant job of fitting into what is now expected of trailers, without spoiling the plot. With the film’s trailers, a different approach is taken to some characters, plot points, and even some specific shots so that it paints an intriguing picture, but not the same one we receive in the film. The result is that every scene in Suburbicon is completely fresh.

Oscar Isaac’s cameo-like performance is a lot of fun

One of the main things the trailers for Suburbicon don’t tell us we’re going to be getting is a message on racial politics. In fact, watch the trailer, and all you see is something just like the town of Suburbicon – very white. The message that Clooney, Heslov, and the Coen Brothers wrote into their screenplay is a simple narrative that parallels the main plot. In concept, it’s a great idea, and the final shot of the film reminds us of its cleverness. But in execution, it struggles to go beyond a concept, and its simplicity makes the message feel shouty. The story doesn’t bother to integrate this political narrative into the events of the main plot, making its message be the only purpose it has in the film. Once we realize what is trying to be said with this subplot, which is pretty early on, the rest of the scenes pertaining to it fail to have a purpose. It was a good idea, but executed terribly.

The main story of the film, which follows Nicky, his father, and his aunt, is a very fun, classic Coen Brothers story. The characters are simple, yet engaging, and the many different ingredients of the plot are exciting, intense, and lots of fun. Perhaps the best element of the film, however, is George Clooney’s directing. This is a very dark comedy, one of the darkest I’ve ever seen, and the primary reason for this is not as much the story as it is the atmosphere that Clooney created.

George Clooney and DOP Robert Elswit make great use of Matt Damon’s glasses

The concept for the town of Suburbicon is not original, but perfect for a dark comedy like this. Clooney plays up all the most ridiculous aspects of the town brilliantly, immersing us into this crazy film. One of his best tools, however, is Alexandre Desplat. Desplat created the musical score for this film, and it’s one of his best scores yet. The music in this movie works wonders, making us laugh, jump in fear, and feel queasy from the intentionally mixed messages of humor and violence throughout the film.

This is a very insane movie. Like I said, as far as dark comedies go, this is one of the darkest. You’re constantly getting mixed signals from the sporadic plot, most of which work to the benefit to the film. There are still many elements, specifically the racial politics narrative, which work to make your head spin even more. There are certainly some parts of this movie which are severely flawed, and not because of bad filmmaking, but because of bad ideas. For me, at least, the good outweighed the bad, and I was thoroughly entertained.

I give Suburbicon a 6.9/10.

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