|Worth seeing: || for some Coen-brothers-esque 50s nostalgia that doesn't quite hang together and won't live long in the memory
|Featuring:||Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Gary Basaraba, Glenn Fleshler, Jack Conley, Karimah Westbrook, Megan Ferguson, Michael D Cohen, Noah Jupe, Richard Kind
|Released:||24th November 2017
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
It’s the late 1950s and the domestic bliss of the picture-perfect neighbourhood of Surburbicon is shattered by the arrival of a black family.
With all their efforts going in to trying to make life for the new arrivals as uncomfortable as possible, what’s going on in the neighbouring house goes almost unnoticed.
One night, two thugs break into the house where a wholesome businessman Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) lives with his disabled wife Rose, her twin sister Margaret (both Julianne Moore) and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe).
What appears to be a burglary gets out of hand and Rose dies.
As the family try to come to terms with their loss, the life-insurance agent Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) turns up to assess their claim on her policy and begins to doubt their version of events. Nicky, too, starts wondering whether his father is being entirely upfront with him.
Soon, Gardner is coming under pressure from the police, the insurance company, the intruders themselves and his own son – but with most of the community looking the other way, he sees his chance to escape.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Suburbicon is very peculiar beast in many ways.
The screenplay is credited to two pairs of writers – the Coen brothers & director George Clooney with his producing partner Grant Heslov. This would normally suggest one set of writers working on their own draft, before a second set of writers gives it a tweak or a polish. But in this case, Clooney has taken an unproduced Coen Brothers screenplay – a low-life crime story in which, in time-honoured style, nothing goes to plan – and added an entirely new setting – the social tensions of a black family inadvertently exploding the calm of a otherwise well-mannered racists.
While the two stories are running alongside each other throughout, there’s only really one moment where these strands genuinely mesh – otherwise, it almost feels like the Coen Brothers film and George Clooney’s social critique are free-standing entities – either of which are engaging enough, up to a point.
The crime thriller part of the film looks and feels very Coen Brothers – from the gently offbeat characters and the pitch black humour to the stylised production design and some absurd hair styling. The stand-out scenes involve Matt Damon’s central character – the surreal nature of a bike chase and a chilling scene involving a conversation with his son.
Elements make you feel that it’s veering towards the Coen brothers at their best, but then it’ll swing violently towards the mediocre – many of the twists, for example, are sign-posted far enough ahead that they fail to shock when they arrive. This is perhaps why the Coens didn’t end up making it themselves.
The narrative unfolds neatly but leaves you with the problem that once the true course of events starts to become clear, there’s not really anyone for the audience to root for, giving the film no emotional core.
If this is your kind of film, it’ll be perfectly enjoyable while you’re watching it, but almost instantly forgettable afterwards. A wave of disappointment will wash over the cinema as the final credits begin to roll, bot because you want more, but because you’ll be thinking, “Oh – is that it?”
The biggest question is how a cast and crew of this calibre – from Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac in front of the camera and George Clooney and the Coen Brothers behind it – can deliver something this disappointingly and confusingly average.