Suburbicon (★★), 15, 105 mins) entered the autumn release schedule with the hottest roster of talent around – Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, as directed by George Clooney from a Coen brothers script – and it is likely to emerge with the most lukewarm reviews of the year.
Clooney’s directorial reputation has been a source of enduring disappointment for those of us who heralded 2005’s serious, engaged Good Night, and Good Luck. Since then, one period fumble (2014’s The Monuments Men) has followed another (2008’s Leatherheads). His latest, a misguided curveball, makes for a slightly more interesting failure than those dull splats in the movie centreground. Still, you watch with furrowed brow and narrowed eyes, wondering: what’s wrong with this picture?
An identity crisis, for a start. Suburbicon opens as social satire, with a whitebread post-war housing development thrown into disarray by the arrival of African-Americans. (In a line presumably inserted during the 2016 election campaign, town elders promise to fence off the newcomers, and get them to pay for it.)
With an abrupt lurch, however, we’re pitched into home-invasion horror, as Damon’s corporate mainstay finds himself besieged by thugs at the house he shares with his wheelchair-bound wife (Moore) and her identical twin sister (also Moore). The ensuing pile-up is observed from the perspective of Damon’s son (Noah Jupe), a cowering thing raised on War of the Worlds-style radio broadcasts – suggesting that someone may even have had a lower rating than 15 in mind.
Somewhere amid this perplexing carnage there lurks the suggestion that the Coens saw the origins of modern-day conservatism in this neighbourhood – some backstory for Trumpland’s prejudices and insecurities. Their points, however, come couched inside their resistibly arch shaggy-dog tales. That’s all Suburbicon has at base: hokey twists, put over by smirking stars. The result most often serves to assert rather than undermine white privilege – the work of multi-millionaires paying themselves handsomely to have way more fun than their audience.
Clooney simply never explains why he’s stuck on this trivial sub-Double Indemnity pantomime when full-on race war looks to be erupting outside, a choice that leaves the film’s black performers near-mute and ever secondary to the leads’ blandly indifferent huffing.
Suburbicon has its slicker stretches – it’s Clooney, after all – and in these one catches glimpses of a worthwhile curio along the lines of The ’Burbs, Joe Dante’s far sharper, Reagan-era assault on homegrown conservatism. Yet the significant struggles in this universe are taking place on the other side of the picket fence, and it remains unclear whether the stellar talent drawn here has entirely grasped that reality.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.