As a director, George Clooney just hasn’t managed to reproduce the magic he had in his first effort Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. I keep hoping that we’ll get another film at that caliber, but it seems over and over it is a swing and a miss. Now he has his new film Suburbicon, and this could be his most divisive work to date. There is nothing wrong with adding a social commentary to a film, but sometimes adding it can be a distraction from the film. In the case of Suburbicon, it is a tale of two films that couldn’t be any more different from each other. First we have a tale of a family attempting to keep their lives together following a home invasion, and then we have the story of a black family moving into a white neighborhood and the backlash that follows.
The original script was penned by Joel and Ethan Coen. This was initially what got me curious about the film, since I’ve been a fan of their work for some time. With George Clooney’s history with the Coens in the past, I figured he would be a good fit to bring their work to the screen. The first red flag should have been that George Clooney and his long-time writing partner Grant Heslov have writing credits to the film. This isn’t a jab at their work, but writing-wise they wouldn’t be the go-to pair I’d pick to rewrite the Coens, since they have their own very distinct style. As expected, you can see the jarring difference in style and tone in the film.
When the film follows Gardner (Matt Damon) and the story about his wife being killed after a home invasion, it has a familiar tone to Fargo, and the film works well as a dark comedy. Clooney manages to nail the tone of the film and at times he does a decent imitation of previous Coen Brothers films. Julianne Moore (another Coen alum) does double duty as Garner’s wife and sister in-law by playing twins. Moore seems to be having fun in this role and is definitely one of the films standouts. As this story unfolds and we begin to see the home invasion isn’t quite what it seemed, its Gardner’s son Nicky (Noah Jupe) who becomes the scene-stealer.
While this is happening, the neighbors of Suburbicon seem to be disturbed by the violence that has come to their neighborhood, and needing someone to blame, they point the finger at the new black family that has moved to the neighborhood. The resistance the family has from the neighbors escalates as the film progresses, and though they are in a large portion of the film, we really don’t get to know this family. More attention is spent with the family’s son Andy (Tony Espinosa) and his friendship with Nicky.
It’s obvious Clooney is injecting his thoughts about race and the current events occurring in the nation today. The problem is that in the process he’s managed to hurt his film and divide his audience. Either story would have worked as a standalone film, but mixing the two simply is off-putting.
The strength of the film comes from the perspective of the kids as they see adults acting out and saying horrible things. The kids, of course, don’t see a color divide, but bond over the chaos they are witnessing around them. If the kids were more front and center in the film, perhaps it would have been easier to have told these different stories better. There are some great performances here. I mentioned Julianne Moore, but Matt Damon does a great job as the middle-class dad with plenty of dark secrets, and then there is Oscar Isaac who simply shines in his few scenes in the film.
Despite the flip-flopping tone of the film, I still came out of the film liking it. It’s a film I can understand how people will be divided by, but I feel it’s a film that will be a solid discussion piece.