The film holds special interest because it has been directed by George Clooney. He is also the writer of the script with Joel and Ethan Coen and Grant Heslov. The film has ideas about nastiness in American life, but there’s a problem of mixing two aspects that aren’t really a good fit.
The setting is a supposedly typical American suburb in the 1950s, which production designer Jim Bissell and cinematograph Robert Elswit nail perfectly with a look of stultifying sameness. There are two basic plot situations.
One represents greed and lust. Matt Damon plays Gardner Lodge who is married to Rose but is really hot for her sister, Margaret. Intriguingly both the wife and sister are played by Julianne Moore. How can Gardner get rid of his wife? A murder with insurance money as an added attraction is concocted by arranging what is to look like robbers invading the home.
Naturally, there will be a problem. It arrives in the form of an insurance investigator, played smarmily by Oscar Isaac. That would be enough of a story in itself for a film. But the writers and director have an added idea.
An African-American family moves into all white Suburbicon and this triggers racist hostility and vicious action against the newcomers. Leith Burke and Karimah Westbrook play the black couple trying to hold forth and resist with conviction and dignity. That situation could also make a movie unto itself.
By mixing problems—greed and lust on the one hand, racism on the other—the film doesn’t do right by either. The all-around nastiness comes across, but the film becomes somewhat of an uncomfortable jumble.
On the plus side is the acting, which helps grasp our interest despite the crassly contrived situations. “Suburbicon” is of interest mainly because Clooney directed, and he does show the ability to keep a film very intense against the background of supposed normalcy. But as for the screenplay, perhaps too many hands were involved. A Paramount Pictures release. Posted October 27, 2017.