It’s beginning to look as if Goodnight and Good Luck was a fluke. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort is a deeply muddled film. Working from an old and unused script by the Coen brothers, and fusing it with a true-life account of the Levittown race riots, Clooney has conspired to produce something which does neither of them justice.
Set in the idyllic and diverse (yet entirely all white) community of Suburbicon in 1950s America, the film begins with the Meyers family – the town’s first black family – moving in. Their arrival sparks a furore of racial tension, to the extent that the townsfolk decide to build a fence around the Meyers home so they can’t be seen. Things only get worse from here.
Next door to the Meyers, lives Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family, including his wheelchair bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore), her twin sister Margaret (also Moore), and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Their seemingly ordinary suburban lives are thrown into chaos following a home invasion, which has disastrous consequences.
What Clooney fails to do is find any cohesive thread between these two narratives. It’s like two completely separate films, vaguely connected by the fact they expose the dark underbelly of the supposed picture perfect American dream. Unfortunately we’ve seen this done before, and far better.
The frustrating thing about Suburbicon is there are two potentially fantastic films in there. The Matt Damon plot is clearly the bare bones of Coen brothers original script. A nebbish buffoon getting in over his head with violent idiots. It is classic Coens, but that is probably why they didn’t pursue directing it themselves. Been there, done that. But Clooney, and regular writing collaborator Grant Heslov could have fleshed it out into the cracking, noir comedy it promises to be.
Likewise, a true-life account of the Levittown race riots is a story demanding to be told. But Suburbicon is not the place to tell it. Clashing horribly with the dark comedic sensibilities of the Coenesque nonsense happening next door, this story requires a more sensitive hand to guide it. Clooney doesn’t seem to have any sort of grip on what it is he wants to say with this, and in the end we know nothing more about the Meyers family than we did in the opening scene.
Suburbicon is a film with great pedigree. A lot of top Hollywood talent have put their weight behind this film. It looks great, has a fantastic score, and there is a very pleasing performance from Oscar Isaac. All the elements are there, but it doesn’t add up to a satisfying whole. As an off-kilter film noir satirising post-war America it doesn’t hit the mark. As an allegory of racial tensions in contemporary America it is completely tone deaf.
Cast: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe Director: George Clooney Writer: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Released By: Entertainment One Certificate: 15 Duration: 102 mins Release Date: 23rd April 2018