Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
After a home invasion leads to tragedy, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) needs to pick-up the pieces and heal. His son Nicky (Noah Jupe) is initially distraught, but begins thinking that something is not adding-up – especially when his Aunt Margaret (Julianne Moore) moves in and starts getting cozy with his father. With racial tension simmering outside their door and non-savoury types turning-up at work and home unannounced, Nicky just might be right.
While the storyline may sound dark and twisted, the look of Director George Clooney’s Suburbicon is anything but. The production design by Clooney-regular Jim Bissell evokes every ounce of 1950s nostalgia, from the drab colour scheme right down to the white picket fences and freshly-mowed grass. It is idyllic and utopic, brilliantly hiding the bloody chaos bubbling under the surface. Alexandre Desplat’s Score is just as good, complementing the look with a happy-go-lucky theme. The thrilling and more intense moments are also scored quite well, and drastically shift on a dime when required.
But while the look is spot-on, Suburbicon is unsound tonally. It wants to be a Dark Comedy, but it also wants to be a Satire and an allegory for modern times – as well as a treatise on racism and middle class politics. It wants to be just about everything, without a real focus. Clooney and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov do an admirable job trying to keep all of these elements cohesive, yet fail more often than they succeed. Adding in moments that feel distinctively Coen Brothers-esque only further muddies the tone, as they feel like they belong to a different Film. But I would take those odd moments over the racism Subplot that feels shoehorned-in (despite having been part of the Coens’ original script). It serves a point, but it feels completely inorganic to the story around it.
The tonal issues filter down to the acting, with nearly no one being able to decipher the tone Clooney is going for. Moore delivers a few laughs, but spends the majority of the Film lifeless and catatonic practically. Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell play the two home invaders who essentially kick the story off, but neither makes any lasting impression on what comes next. Jupe’s Nicky is the heart of the Film, but acts as more of a narrative device than an actual character. Damon fares the worst here, uncertain whether he should play Gardner as a befuddled buffoon or dead-serious. He often lands somewhere in the middle, resulting in little irony or humour coming from his increasingly asinine antics.
The only actor who emerges unscathed is Oscar Issac – who enters the Film late and nearly convinces you to forget everything that happened previously. He has a lot of fun in the role as a swarmy, conniving insurance man with a ridiculous mustache and the attitude of a prototypical Coen Brothers character. His work here is deranged and unhinged, but sadly is underused.
There is a great satire hidden somewhere deep within Suburbicon. All the pieces and players are in place, but the Film’s execution is flawed and tonally unbalanced. Weeks later, I am still disappointed by the final product. But at least it gives us a reason to look forward to another eventual collaboration between Isaac and the Coens.
Elevation Pictures release SUBURBICON in theatres on Friday, October 27, 2017.