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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Suburbicon

Were it not for The Snowman, I would label Suburbicon one of the biggest wastes of talent to hit the screen this year.  Here is a movie that is directed by George Clooney, dreamed up by Joel and Ethan Coen (they originally wrote the script back in the 80s, and Clooney and his writing partner Grant Heslov updated it), and stars the likes of Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac.  All of these tremendously talented people have teamed up to make a creepy and unpleasant experience that manages to be heavy handed and tone deaf at the same time.

As the movie opens, we're introduced to one of those picture-perfect 1950s suburbs that Hollywood just loves to poke fun at, and expose the darker side of.  Here we meet average man Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon, his face hidden behind some big, dark-rimmed glasses), who lives with his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe).  One night, two strange men break into Gardner's house, take the family hostage, and wind up murdering Rose.  As soon as Mrs. Lodge is buried, her twin sister Margaret (also Moore) moves in, and seems to be quite content taking over.  Young Nicky is traumatized, having nightmares about the break-in.  But, why does his dad not seem all that concerned about what has happened?  The two men behind the break-in start turning up at Gardner's business, and there's a shady insurance man (Oscar Isaac) making threatening house calls, as if he knows that Gardner and Margaret are hiding some kind of secret, and he's not below resorting to blackmail.

Meanwhile, in a completely unnecessary and largely ignored subplot, a black family moves in across the street from the Lodges, and are immediately eyed with suspicion and eventually forced to face non-stop harassment and hate from their neighbors.  The wife (Karimah Westbrook) is stoic as she attempts to shop at the grocery store, only to be told by the manager that the price of milk just went up to $20.  This is about as deep as this racism plot (which seems to exist in a completely different movie) ever gets.  Her husband (Leith M. Burke) never says a single word in the entire movie, and her son (Tony Espinosa) starts a reluctant friendship with Nicky, but their scenes never amount to anything more than superficial.  So, we have two movies, one about a little boy who finds out that his parents are murderers and horrible people, and another about a black family that is tormented by their neighbors.  None of this material gels, and the whole thing feels labored and forced.

Who on Earth was Suburbicon made for?  I kept on watching, hoping that the next scene would provide an answer, but it never came.  The movie is filled with dark, bad feelings, often directed at children who seem to be no older than 9 or 10.  The little black boy looks out his window at the angry mob that constantly gathers outside his house and scream racial slurs at his mother while she tries to do the laundry.  This might mean something if the movie ever had anything to say about racism, but it never does.  It just repeats the same ugly images over and over.  Meanwhile, Nicky across the street becomes increasingly convinced that not only did his dad and Aunt Margaret murder his mom, but now they want to kill him too.  He barricades his bedroom door shut, terrified of what's going on just outside.  And in a later scene, professional killers break into his room and try to kill him while he cowers under the bed.

The movie is trying to be a very dark comedy about the seedy lives that dwell within a quaint little upscale neighborhood, but the movie is so tone deaf, it never builds to any real laughs.  We're simply watching horrible people kill each other and threaten innocent children, who can't seem to comprehend what's going on.  Matt Damon is supposed to be playing a perfectly reasonable man who has gone over the edge, and goes even further as he tries to clean up the mess he made.  But, the screenplay gives him so little to do, he never comes across as anything more than an underwritten stereotype.  As for Julianne Moore, this is the second time in just over a month I have seen her in the role of an over the top 1950s suburban mom-type with psychopathic tendencies, and she is just as bad at it here as she was in Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  If I were her, I would reject all projects that require her to play such a role on sight from now on.

This is a stunningly awful film in just about every way.  Even the direction by George Clooney feels curiously flat here, as he never gets off any particularly interesting shots, or he rubs his ideas in our faces like we are idiots.  In one particularly heavy-handed moment, we see the white and black boy walking down a sidewalk together, and the camera stays focused on some local bullies who eye them suspiciously.  The bullies have nothing to do with this scene, nor do they wind up doing anything.  Clooney just wants us to know that people don't like seeing the kids together, and wants to spell it out in the most basic way possible.  There is no rhythm to the film.  Nothing builds, nothing connects, and it really just amounts to a bunch of nasty and manipulative scenes that are loosely connected to a thin narrative.  It has nothing to say, except that the people who live in this particular community are horrible, violent people.  Good to know, I guess.

Suburbicon is so bad that only truly talented people could have made it.  Lesser filmmakers and actors wouldn't have the guts to dive this deep off the edge.  George Clooney has worked with the Coen Brothers a number of times, and maybe he thought he understood their work enough in order to mimic their blend of dark comedy and thriller elements.  For whatever reason, he lost his way, and the movie loses all sense of credibility for it.

1 comments

1 Comments:

  • There is a certain irony that a film about the supposedly sordid, dark, seedy secret lives of otherwise normal suburban (oh, and White!!, of course, with double exclamation points so we "get it")American families of the 1950's is being made by modern actors who come from a Hollywood culture that has very real sordid, dark, and horrible secrets just now coming to light.

    It'd be funny, if not for all the terribleness.

    By Blogger Berserkasaurus Rex, at 8:23 PM  

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