Suburbicon is set in 1957 within a suburban town of the same name. It is the kind of small American town that is synonymous with the work of Douglas Sirk and films like All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, but it is a setting that has remained popular and has been seen more recently with Far From Heaven and Sam Mendes’ adaption of Revolutionary Road.
It is here that we meet the Lodge family, headed up by the mild mannered Gardner (Matt Damon), his disabled wife Rose (Julianne Moore), her sister Margaret (also Moore), and their son Nicky (Noah Jupe). One day their quiet existence is shattered when robbers break into their house and kill Rose with an overdose of chloroform. What at first appears to be a standard burglary starts to come under question as links between the robbers and Gardner start to emerge.
George Clooney, the once dependable director of Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March, returns with his second successive misfire. Clooney’s record as a director is looking increasingly hit or miss and while his work behind the camera can often be sharp and engaging it can also be misjudged and confused. Suburbicon may not be as bad as some are suggesting but its ambitious attempts to combine racial commentary, social satire, and murder mystery are messy and lacking.
It takes more than merely placing the odd Confederate flag in shot or showing a community’s disgruntlement and anger towards its new black residents to make a comment on race. Over the last few years film has come a long way in its discussions and representation of race and Suburbicon feels like a backward step in this regard. It is almost as if Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave never happened.
Similarly the idea that unsavoury behaviour occurs behind apparently normal suburban households is not a new one. This is a topic and genre that is well trodden and it is difficult to bring originality to it. Suburbicon is too safe and incoherent for it to have anything substantive to say and would have benefitted from being bolder in its storytelling and delivery. Despite it being more than 30 years since the release of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet it still manages to shock audiences with its dark and twisted depictions of suburbia’s seedy underbelly. In comparison, Clooney’s take on suburban American is much tamer and forgettable.
It is surprisingly that such a script would come from come from Joel and Ethan Coen who have previously written and directed classic films like Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Inside Llewyn Davis. They have also in the past been able to deliver an interesting and surprisingly subversive look at the American suburbs with the excellent A Serious Man and there is a sense that they passed this script onto Clooney because they knew it was not of their usual quality.
Suburbicon may not be as bad as some reviewers are suggesting but it is still an incoherent and ill-conceived social satire. George Clooney and his talented cast are unable to overcome a substandard script.
In cinemas from Friday 24th November.