Overview: A tight-knit American family is caught in the center of a cycle of prejudice, racism, and violence in the 1950s. Paramount Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 105 minutes.
Anywhere, USA: Based on an original script penned by the Coen Brothers in 1986 shortly after the theatrical release of their debut film Blood Simple, Suburbicon was shelved for just shy of 20 years before George Clooney was approached to star in and direct the movie in 2005. Eventually, more Coen regulars joined the cast of the feature length production—namely lead actors Matt Damon and Julianne Moore—while Clooney turned his full attention to directing and providing another pass on the film’s script alongside co-writer Grant Heslov. The result is Suburbicon, a film that would have felt more timely in its depiction of small town America if it weren’t for its numerous dangling narrative threads, red herring plot contrivances, and satiric detours.
Suburbanoia: At the heart of Suburbicon is a viscerally compelling home invasion story that feels as though it were lifted directly from the pages of an Ernest Hemingway short story. Cloaked in the dark of night, two mobster thugs invade the quiet sanctity of the Lodge residence, and surreptitiously murder the sickly family matriarch Rose Lodge (Julianne Moore) with an overdose of chloroform. From the outside looking in, the surrounding residents of the eponymously named small town community begin pointing fingers at a young African-American family who recently moved into the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the scheming family patriarch Gardener Lodge (Damon) is tied up at the center of everything, and must come to terms with a string of events that finally sees him undone in the midst of all the domestic paranoia.
1950s Redux: For better and for worse, Suburubicon performs admirably in its cheekily applied subversions of the moral standards and cultural stereotypes of late 1950s America. Unfortunately, the movie is so overloaded with broad caricatures and redundant social commentary that Clooney’s best intentions get in the way of the movie’s better moments. For all of the film’s liberal lampooning of the various presumptions and ignorances of the general population that continue to plague the American electorate in 2017, the movie never follows any one of its various sub-plots closely enough for the entire comedy to hold together. Like The Big Lebowski, Suburbicon is another neo-noir hybrid that mixes elements of Raymond Chandler and James M. Caine to uproarious ends. Unfortunately, this latest Coen Brothers production is so overstuffed with content that it becomes difficult to discern genuine humor from some of the tone-deaf patronizing of its politically minded director.
Overall: Given a few more years, Suburbicon may very well age into another cult film favorite to match the sardonic wit of The Big Lebowski. But for now, Clooney has struggled to breath new life into a long-abandoned Coen Brothers script. Damon performs admirably in the lead role—as does Oscar Isaac as a sorely underutilized supporting player—but the rest of the cast suffer in a movie that sees a multitude of equally compelling voices talking over one another in an absurd cacophony of combative thematic threads.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures