The monumental misfire Suburbicon sinks to the bottom of a big pool of talent.
Directed by George Clooney from a script originally penned by the Coen brothers, the movie is a snide suburban satire, a grisly domestic horror film, and a movie keen to show that America’s post-war self-image was contradicted by racial realities.
If there is a way to join these elements together, Clooney has failed to find it.
The best that can be said is the cast is very game. Matt Damon stars as Gardner Lodge, a starched white collar executive whose home is invaded by thugs — Desperate Hours played (I think) as black comedy, though watching Lodge’s son squirm and weep as his invalid mother (Julianne Moore) is drugged with chloroform is in no way amusing.
Local policeman (Jack Conley) and an insurance man (Oscar Isaac) investigate the crime, uncovering layers of deceit (it’s another Coen riff on 1950s noir) that serve the thriller plot and Clooney’s apparent desire to say something meaningful about unsavory realities underneath sanitized ideals of post-war life in America.
The movie opens with the unctuous voice-over of a TV pitchman describing a prosperous suburban tract-home town, one throwing its arms open to folks from all over the country — the faces, we note, are all white.
Meanwhile, on Truman-era console televisions, Clooney shows us what appears to be actual archival documentary footage of the same sorts of folks saying horrible things about the possibility of living next to African Americans.
It’s a prominent story thread here. A black family moves adjacent to the Lodge’s, causing immediate upheaval — protests rage all day and all night, vandalism occurs, a confederate battle flag is draped across the family’s window sash.
Lodge barely notices. He has his own problems. The threat to his family has only intensified, and will not be resolved until knives, guns, and fireplace pokers are brandished, and much black-comedy blood is spilled — again, with the spectacle of a quivering, terrified child front and center.
Meanwhile, we have a screenplay that invokes the Coens’ continued interest in religious motifs and ideas — a man named Gardner with a snake loose in his collapsing paradise.
But it all feels flat-footed and pretentious. In one particularly noxious scene, the hateful crowd outside the home of the black residents gathers to sing “In the Sweet By and By.”
The sin is in the hearts of the singers, and when bad things happen, the town transfers blame to change brought by integration.
And bad things do happen. Men are shot, beaten, mangled, poisoned, burned alive.
Given all of this, Clooney’s choice to end the movie with an image straight out of Rockwell feels particularly inept, and desperate.
- Directed by George Clooney. With Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba and Glen Fleshler. Distributed by Paramount Pictures
- Parents guide: R (language, violence).
- Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.
- Playing at: Area theaters.