Suburbicon Oct 2, 2018 11:01:07 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Oct 2, 2018 11:01:07 GMT -5
Directed by: George Clooney
Directed by: George Clooney
Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in Suburbicon.
Suburbicon is the second time a shelved Coen brothers script was unearthed in efforts to make a film that attempts to capitalize on the duo's deft abilities at black comedy. The first was a remake of Gambit back in 2012, a film whose terrible reviews were somewhat buried since it didn't receive a theatrical release in the United States. Suburbicon was written by Joel and Ethan Coen in 1986, shortly after the release of their debut, Blood Simple, but remained on the shelf until George Clooney decided to take on the project. Working with longtime collaborator Grant Heslov, Clooney drastically reworked the Coen's original script, merging their framework of a domestic crime-drama with a story loosely based on the time when a black family moved into an all-white suburb in 1957 Pennsylvania. The Coen's still maintain writing credits on the film, and throughout the final product, there are flashes that tell you how they might've handled the story in a swifter, more balanced and succinct manner, even without the presence of the racially charged subplot.
Released to relentlessly brutal reviews and meager box office returns, Suburbicon is certainly not as bad as everyone has claimed. Halfway through, I reasonably could've seen myself giving it a full recommendation, flaws and all. It has the lore of a primetime crime-drama on a bigger scale, feeding into the love many people have for seeing the picturesque homes of the suburbs have their curtains peeled back a bit so we can see if the lives of the inhabitants are as manicured as their lawns. At the film's core, however, is its most criticized attribute, which is made up of two disproportionately weighted halves: one revolving around a domestic disturbance that shows the sickest exploits of martial deceit, the other dealing with the idea of blackness impeding on a "perfect" white neighborhood.
Set in 1959, the primary thread revolves around Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), a white-collar businessman, whose wheelchair-bound wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), is killed by a pair of muggers who break into their home and chloroform him, his young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), and Rose's identical twin sister, Margaret (Moore, as well) in the process. While Gardner begins shacking up with Margaret shortly after the death of his wife, Nicky inquisitively sees a larger motive in play in which his father might've had a role. It's a turn of events that begins to boil over when a well-dressed insurance claims investigator, played with great comic poise by Oscar Isaac, arrives to sniff out the stench of suspicion.
This was allegedly the framework the Coen brothers originally devised, with Clooney and Heslov infusing their attempt at broader significance in the form of illustrating the Lodge's next door neighbors, the Mayers. The nuclear family — played by Leith Brke, Karimah Westbrook, and Tony Espinosa — are the first blacks to move into the gated communicated of Suburbicon, and their presence inspires widespread community outrage and 24/7 protesting in front of their home. The Mayers aren't so much characters (their son is around the same age as Nicky, and the only moment of dialog-driven interaction between the two is early in the film) but curated symbolic inclusions in a film that drives home the idea that whites will turn a blind-eye to crime in their own area because they're so fixated on the unassuming people of color, who have yet to do anything illegal. There's meat to this idea, but it's worked into the film in a very tin-eared way.
The juxtaposition of these ideas does indeed create some friction for the film's tone. The intense set-decoration of the film's titular setting screams 1950s, and, visually speaking, sometimes helps guide the film towards giving the impression of the satire the Coen brother probably could've been able to make it. The difficultly that unfolds comes with the integration subplot Clooney and Heslov introduce, as it obviously brings a substantial degree of seriousness to the film, one it cannot balance effectively if it's casting a softer light on the Lodge family. As a result, the film is stuck in neutral when it tries to embrace the underlying satire, with its characters, namely Gardner, never rising above unlikable into something more socially relevant, and thereby working off of the steam provided by the inherent mystery and drama.
Sticking with the idea of Suburbicon's unrealized satirical roots, Oscar Isaac has remained a high-point of praise for the film because in a lot of ways, he's emblematic of what it's missing. For the two scenes he's in, Isaac is tremendous and shows what might've been had the film adopted his relentless tone and approach to the material. He's a lively screen-presence, he does a good bit of stage-business, and makes use of the periodically claustrophobic quarters of the Lodge residence by being mobile. Where Damon's Gardner feels static and Jupe's Nicky is limited in his locations, Isaac "gets" the film's tone even when the overall project itself doesn't.
But the mystery is what kept Suburbicon chugging along for me as a whole. By the end, Clooney and Heslov have orchestrated credible suspense in the circumstances do nothing but escalate during the last 45 minutes, and although Damon, Moore, and Isaac may be underdeveloped, that doesn't stop their performances from still being convincing where it counts. The integration subplot is disappointingly limited, but its existence marginally succeeds in giving the film a greater resonance beyond the obvious tropes of what lies beneath the beauty and regimentation that exists in suburbia. Suburbicon has all the meandering qualities of a Clooney-directed film in the modern day, ala The Monuments Men, but its execution is enjoyable enough to warrant some praise.
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac, and Gary Basaraba. Directed by: George Clooney.