If Suburbicon was more about the social inequality in the postwar American society, it would definitely be a lot better than it currently is.
It is a beautiful, sunny day in the suburbs of the American city Suburbicon. People are devoted to everyday activities in front of their houses and enjoy peaceful and problem-free lives. A postman spreads letters from house to house and greets familiar faces completing a 1950s idyll. However, it all doesn’t last long, unaware of the upcoming surprise the postman knocks on the door and, a couple of seconds later, stands speechless with a letter in his hand looking at a black woman. Unbelievable! That is a huge shock for him seeing a person of this skin colour living in the same neighbourhood with white people. After a while, asked by the woman, he gives her the letter and walks away quickly to the next house to inform its inhabitants that they live next to black people. Then we see neighbours looking at the woman with open mouths. That is the beginning of a severe conflict between Americans of different skin colours and the revelation of the true white American nature at the time.
The film, Suburbicon, is directed and written by George Clooney, known mainly as a great actor (O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ocean’s Eleven), and written by Grant Heslov and the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski). Suburbicon is one of those movies which waited a long time to be filmed. The Coen brothers wrote the first version of it in the mid-1980s and hoped to get funding to make this black comedy. Unfortunately, it did not work out, so the project was suspended. It wasn’t until 2005 when Joel and Ethan Coen’s good friend George Clooney took over the project, but he too had to wait a long time to secure a budget. During 10 years the idea for the movie had been changing, there was now less humour and more political weight.
The first story, as mentioned, is about the conflict between white and Afro-American inhabitants of the Suburbicon suburbs. The majority of them are white and try to get rid of the black family who just moved in by figuring out many ways to force them out. However, this social motif is just a background for the main story, which is a criminal intrigue. Gardener Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family – his wife played by Julianne Moore, her twin sister Margaret (also Moore) and their son Nicky (Noah Jupe) are attacked in their house by two brutal home invaders. During the whole event, Lodge’s wife is killed and his son starts to experience trauma. At first, we feel sorry for these characters and want justice, but then we find out that the tragedy is something much different.
The main problem of Suburbicon is its two stories which it presents, they entwine seemingly, but don’t actually effect one another. White residents of the suburbs besiege the black family’s house and try to force them out of the neighbourhood, while, at the same time, criminals treat with cruelty Gardener’s family in his house. I think that both the Coen brothers and George Clooney couldn’t agree what the movie should be about. Joel and Ethan would like it to be more of a suspenseful thriller, when Clooney wants to show and deride the social pathologies in American society. The other thing is that the film is too obvious in showing double morality and social inequality. Apart from that, it is a black comedy which isn’t laughable at all. When something that is supposed to be funny happens we usually just smile (not laugh) because of the failed attempts to make us laugh and bring some humour to the more serious plot.
Suburbicon not only tells the story of people who make bad decisions because they are stupid and greedy but also about people becoming beasts when they’re up against the wall or full of prejudices. They can also turn into a threatening mob in every moment if dissatisfied. Speaking of the performances, Matt Damon and Julianne Moore don’t do a bad job in the movie, they play their roles adequately. Damon portrays a dependable breadwinner and Moore a sweet-as-pie homemaker, and when it comes to young Noah Jupe, he is pretty convincing as a child who builds himself slowly a picture of the father’s and aunt’s bad doings. Nonetheless, when Oscar Isaac appears on screen as a fraud investigator, he steals the show even though he only turns up in two scenes.
The movie is unfortunately falsely marketed, as the trailer shows that it is going to be a black comedy and crime story, while that’s just part of the film, with a little of the social issues in the background where Clooney’s true interest lies. Besides, after watching the trailer someone can think that Suburbicon is just one of those films where the head of the family will take revenge on criminals for attacking his loved ones. It is absolutely not.
Suburbicon (2017), directed by George Clooney, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One, certificate 15.