October 26, 2017

CINEMA | To Live and Die in 'Suburbicon'

George Clooney | Suburbicon

Listen to my guest appearance reviewing Suburbicon and talking all things movies on Episode 143 of the Vertical Viewing Podcast (available on iTunes) joined by co-hosts Scott Willson, Jared Sargent, and Michael Lynd. (1h31)

George Clooney as a filmmaker has a somewhat spotty record as of late after early successes working on hyper stylish takes on biopics made on shoestring budgets and amassing awards for his acting and producing. Suburbicon is a somewhat Frankenstein of a film that combines elements of different stories in an idealized 1950s post-war suburban American setting influenced by recent racial and political tensions.

Originally scripted by Joel and Ethan Coen in the 1980s and later revised by Clooney and his partner Grant Heslov, the script essentially combines two separate stories together somewhat rather inelegantly. Matt Damon stars as a struggling and scheming husband, Gardner Lodge, with a Fargo-esque storyline concerning a home invasion leading to the death of his handicapped wife. They share a backyard with a model (but horribly harassed) young black family who rattle the neighbourhood once they move in.

Matt Damon George Clooney | Suburbicon

Julianne Moore stars as both Rose and Maggie, Damon's quickly deceased wife and caring sister-in-law, as a sickly sweet housewife archetype. However, the film's real star is Noah Jupe as the young son, Nicky, the real protagonist who grapples with the suburban chaos and violence around him. We get the sense that his father's toxic masculinity has taken him well over the line and how young Nicky must awaken to the world around him. Again, this is all expressed awkwardly in anemic fashion.

Cinematographer Robert Elswit's rich visuals construct the lush Leave It to Beaver style with a sparkling feel. The on-point white American sheen is what makes the racial politics even more uncomfortable as white characters depicted by white filmmakers comment on the absurdity of white privilege so strangely. Clooney's aims and ideas may be admirable and even true, but the execution is so simplistic and misguided.

Suburbicon just feels off. Its Coen-esque caper dark comedy about the ills of the American dream never jive with the racial social commentary and abundance of violence. It has a wealth of talent and mines Hitchcock style suspense but just ever so inelegantly to make the entire endeavour mostly off-putting, if still mildly entertaining. Clooney has somehow lost his effortless ability to combine talent and style together so vividly. The film is not so much middling as it is just imprecise and flat.

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