Any film with the attachment of the gang of George Clooney, Matt Damon, the Coens and Grant Heslov was once considered to be the equivalent of comfort food. Over the past few years, however, the combination has no longer been a winning one and Suburbicon is not just the newest belly flop but also one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
The problem is Suburbicon doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be. In wanting to be a satirical murder mystery director, Clooney neither nails the satirical bite nor the thrill of solving a murder. It’s bleak when it should be funny, and funny when it should be serious, and talky when it should render the message in silences. In other words, it feels like a story that Coen brothers should have directed themselves because they’re the experts on finding the right balance between the beautifully gruesome and the darkly hilarious.
We’re introduced to Gardner Lodge (Damon), a typical family man in an American suburb in the late 50’s with a wife (Julianne Moore) and a kid (Noah Jupe, who is also in this week’s Wonder). Two strange things suddenly disturb their tranquil life – firstly an African American family moves in next door, which is a prickly event considering the time period. Secondly, two robbers break into the Lodge’s house one night and kill his wife. As time passes, Lodge’s sister in law (also played by Moore) moves into the house as a surrogate mother, but something seems fishy.
The frustrating thing is it’s just very easy to solve the mystery, and not only is the card shown very early on in the film, there’s little exciting material to continue from that point onwards. Once the identity of the killer is revealed, the film goes all over the place, much like the people in the film, unsure of what the hell to do next. At every turn Clooney presents the story, which is rather low key on very high notes, as if something very important is happening – the self-important execution is grating. It feels like Clooney wants to wow us with whatever is happening on screen but the pedigree of the actors (Damon, Moore and even Oscar Isaac who makes a cameo as an insurance guy) is just not enough to pull the material out of the substandard quality that it ultimately is.
There was in fact no need to make this a period film – we could have probably had a more relatable film had Clooney set the story in contemporary suburbs with the same cast. It could have made the commentary on racial tensions more coherent instead of the ham-handed layer that it is in the film, possessing none of the nuance or darkly funny entertainment of Get Out. Clooney tends to make hit-or-miss films, and Suburbicon is unfortunately a rather giant miss. It does feel like a bunch of friends got together and lazily put together something without much thought. That makes it a very hard recommendation, despite the talent associated with it.