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Review: George Clooney's Suburbicon an uneasy mishmash

PUBLISHED: 16:09 23 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:23 23 November 2017

Julianne Moore as Margaret and Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge in Suburbicon. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Julianne Moore as Margaret and Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge in Suburbicon. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

A bungled robbery in a picket-fenced 1950s American white community provides the catalyst for George Clooney's comic crime caper based on a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, which has been gathering dust on a shelf since the 1980s.

Julianne Moore as Margaret and Oscar Isaac as Bud Cooper in Suburbicon. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn GayleJulianne Moore as Margaret and Oscar Isaac as Bud Cooper in Suburbicon. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Suburbicon (15)

***

In its opening scenes, George Clooney’s latest film introduces us to the town of Suburbicon, an idealised vision of 50s Americana, in the early 60s.

The place is so stylised, so Pleasantville perfect, that you know something horrible is going to happen to it. Sure enough, there goes the neighbourhood: when a coloured family move into a house the entire white-flight community turns into animals, mounting an escalating campaign of harassment and intimidation to try and drive them out.

But they’re not the film.

Because around the back of their house, a white family headed by Matt Damon and two Julianne Moores (they’re sisters) are busy playing at Fargo; enacting a typical Coen Brothers style tale of dimwit criminality and numbskull duplicity.

Which is to be expected: they’re characters in a Coen Brothers’ script, albeit a very old one from back in the 80s, sometime after Blood Simple.

Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge and Glenn Fleshler as Ira Sloan in Suburbicon. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn GayleMatt Damon as Gardner Lodge and Glenn Fleshler as Ira Sloan in Suburbicon. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

For the movie, they share a script credit with Clooney and his regular writing partner Grant Heslov and, though attribution is never that straightforward in movies, at times you can really see the join. It is full of knotty little bits of Coen black humour and idiosyncrasies, that have somehow escaped from their box and are squatting on a set from an Oscar pleading period drama.

Where does this mishmash get us? Nowhere very useful.

The year is 1957 and family man Gardner Lodge (Damon), his wife Rose (Moore) and their son Nicky (Noah Jupe) are among 60,000 all-white residents of Suburbicon.

During a visit by Rose’s twin sister Margaret (Moore again), the family is surprised by two brutish intruders. Alas, Rose dies from inhaling too much chloroform.

Soon after, life insurance claims investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) arrives armed with uncomfortable questions about the fortuitous timing of Rose’s demise.

Clooney stages it very skillfully, there are a few funny moments and some fine performances. Isaac’s role is little more than a cameo, but memorably performed in the style of Gomez from the Addams Family.

The 50s setting is so archly All American it is almost parallel world sci-fi – people use torches to change the channel on the TV. But those TVs beam out real footage of the this real world’s Civil Rights struggle, and of white people complaining about integration in the 60s.

What America needs now is something that brings its fractured sides together, and maybe this is the film to do it. There’s something to annoy everyone in Suburbicon.

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