The nuclear family takes a good kicking in George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, proving once again why the charismatic star is better in front of the camera than behind it.
Welcome to Suburbicon, a haven for the white middle-classes. A smiling postman making the rounds arrives at the home of new African-American residents; the Mayers family. When Mrs. Mayers opens the door, he assumes that she is a maid of some sort, and when realising this is not the case, his shocked expression continues door-to-door to fuel the moral panic that is to ensue. This may be the beginning of a satirical and insightful look into simmering and tense race relationships in 1950’s America – this is not our story. Instead, meet the Lodge’s, a family with more pressing issues at hand, if not completely far-fetched ones. After their house is broken into by two men whose appearances would lead one to falsely believe they possess any personality, the family is left with one less member. The results of this fateful night are jeopardous, setting in motion a string of vicious events.
As the narrative progresses it’s rather difficult to understand what Clooney wants his latest project to be. It’s written by his frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen, and the nature of the plot and some of the wittier dialogue are sure indicators of this. However for the most part, it feels like a script that they were not comfortable enough with to the extent that they’d direct it themselves, insteading deciding to pass it on to their good friend in the chance that he may turn it into something more interesting than they could envision. Of course this is just a hunch, but it’s a justified assumption. As the drama thickens, it becomes increasingly tone deaf in its inapt salvaging of its cinematic influences. It feels as though it’s pushing for the convoluted irrationality of Burn After Reading, but by not having even one character worthy of the humour achieved in the Coen’s 2007 comedy, it falls dead in its tracks. There is also an indebtedness to films like Sam Mendes’s picket-fence comedy-drama American Beauty, and David Lynch’s suburban nightmare Blue Velvet, but where the film additionally falls flat is that it fails to possess the streak of originality found in these films.
The loud and alarming methods that suburbicon utilises to raise the body count will ensure that your attention never begins to dwindle, but its underwritten and unrelatable characters never assert their worthiness to maintain their stay on the screen. They are flat, archetypal characters who undergo no changing arc; simply bad people who just aren’t smart enough to get away with anything. That is except for Oscar Isaac’s entertainingly sleazy insurance swindler, Bud Cooper, who seems a toothpick away from fooling the entire neighbourhood of racist imbeciles. Sadly, with such a brief screen-time his character just becomes another one of the films missed opportunities. He provides much of the humour in his short span, and in his absence, leaves the story with not enough jokes to scrape by as a success in the comedy genre, but one that’s drama is not sustainable enough for the film to be taken seriously.
Having the entire neighbourhood crowded around a single African-American household in monotonous protest of their interruption into their blissfully segregated existence is a clever way of explaining why no one can see what’s going on in the underbelly of Suburbicon. But, it doesn’t comment on this race inequality enough to express a care for it, or for the characters that have fell subject to this foulness. Such absorbing subject matter may have worked better as the focal point of the narrative, allowing the incidents of Matt Damon’s clinically dull Gardner Lodge to fall under complimentary sub-plot. Instead, the end result is a mess that resembles some of the Coen’s misfires; acceptable in its ability to yield the odd smile, but ultimately forgettable.