Friday, October 27, 2017


A beautiful animated intro tells us that Suburbicon is a housing estate that offers the best of white '50s America, bringing young families with shining smiles from all over the map which, if the title didn't already, tells us that this is satire. The jolly postman of the opening scene stops dead at the spectre of a black family moving in and a town meeting turns Klannish. Meanwhile a young family led by Matt Damon as a solid white-collar and twin Julianne Moores is held under the thumb of two gangster types who have some sadistic fun before tying everyone up at the kitchen table and knocking them out with chloroform. Next thing, the mother's dead, there's a steadily mounting race riot brewing and Matt and the surviving Julianne are up to something that's starting to look bad.

The fifties shot to look like today, a noir with lawns, and a host of squeezy situations designed to stress the nicest people into crime: is anyone else thinking Coen brothers? You should as they wrote it with director George Clooney who shot it like one of their genre-bending zingers. Well, that's true only to a point as this film squanders each of its well-turned parts by failing to manage them beyond simple assembly. This makes it nothing like Clooney's earlier helmings like Goodnight and Good Luck or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind which, for their flaws, delivered on their claims.

The opening promises a pleasantly heavy handed ironic tone but this is abandoned. The boiling racial conflict promises a massive action setpiece tightly entwined with the central thriller but the two narrative forces might as well be in different movies. Some strongly telescoped devices (including one of Chekov's loaded guns) are anti-climactic to the point of deflating whole scenes. By the time we get to a neatly staged Hitchcockian irony we are beyond caring. And that's the problem.

We get to spend a lot of time with Damon and Moore, together and apart but never get close or warm to them. The hand played about their characters is spent too early and is afforded no development. Clooney has fun subverting this convention or that but, like the depressurised loaded-gun moments, too much feels like late night writing sessions. We should find the sight of Matt Damon fleeing a scene on his son's tiny bike funny. It's annoying, pleading so hard for its laugh that we easily refuse.

But it's not just tiresome it's tiring. When the Coens take a Billy Bob Thornton and keep us with him through some terrible deeds they do so by giving us an antihero we can project upon in a tightly fashioned frame. The timing here is loose but in a studied self-conscious way. And Noah Jupe as the wide eyed Nicky who is forced to work some tough things out for himself, the sole consistent source of empathy we have, cannot save this film by himself and as we find ourselves looking to him to do just that we are just given more letdowns from a film that snipes every last feature at its disposal.

So, we have an established actor/director giving us a flabby Coen cover version that feels both overthought and underdeveloped. Is the apparent refusal to link the racial conflict with the noir plot meant to tell us something? White folks drowning in their own pools while black lives matter? No idea. I do know how very difficult it is to recover from poisoning your central characters with unlovable features but if you can't let us in on what formed those features then a stocky man on a kid's bike is just not going to cut it.

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