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A disappointing misfire for director George Clooney, Suburbicon attempts to juggle social satire, racial commentary, and murder mystery -- and ends up making a mess of all three.
All Critics (242)
| Top Critics (43)
| Fresh (67)
| Rotten (175)
| DVD (1)
Watchable, lively, intricately designed, but with exotic plot contrivances and parallel storylines that don't fully gel.
The black characters are barely characters at all, and the murder mystery is a Hollywood hand-me-down.
Suburbicon gives away the game on its mystery a bit too soon, but it's still fun watching the various shoes drop.
It's a high-wire storytelling act that's difficult to imagine any director executing appropriately, and Clooney doesn't come remotely close to nailing it.
It's A Raisin in the Sun Meets The Donna Reed Show.
Only occasionally does an image strike a lyrical blow and yield the creepy effect that Clooney is aiming for ...
"Suburbicon," a film that, despite checking a lot of the right boxes, simply isn't very good.
Suburbicon could've been a great, funny, socially conscious film. Regrettably, it's just not that deep. It's a pretty random film that probably lives up to the expectations of the Cohen brothers.
... holds a grip until a certain point but ultimately fails to deliver.
Surburbicon proves that sometimes scripts are shelved for a reason.
Suburbicon isn't always the most finely tuned of comedies... but the twists are brilliant, the score alternately suspenseful and moving and the message poignant.
The different tones for the almost comedic antics at the Lodges, and the threatening racism outside their neighbours the Mayers, don't work together (with the Mayers reduced to background). Thank goodness for Oscar Isaac's wittily sceptical insurance man.
Suburbicon has absolutely no idea what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a satirical comedy? A dark thriller? A commentary on racial injustice? Well, it is all of these, but utterly fails to capitalize on the themes it presents, often becoming a kind of rough draft for something more ambitious. The drab performances, bombastic score, inconsistent tone and muddled direction, make it simply a disappointment at what could have been a meaningful piece of work. George Clooney has some good ideas but needs to flesh them out more. Suburbicon is too thin and hollow to truly resonate. Rate: 41
Suburbicon features a stellar concept that could have steered the film towards being a classic if it had taken a different direction - but unfortunately, it lacks focus.
Suburbicon began as a script written by Joel and Ethan Coen back in the 1980s. They shelved it and went on to other stories and justifiable acclaim. George Clooney came across the old screenplay and rewrote it with his longtime partner Grant Heslov (Monuments Men). Clooney's version of suburban strife is a wash and also easily the worst effort of Clooney's Oscar-nominated directing career. I wish Suburbicon would make up its mind on which of the three different movies it wants to tell. This is possible proof that Coen brother stories should best be left chiefly to the Coens.
Set amidst the 1950s, an African-American family moves in to an all-white suburban neighborhood and instantly changes the climate. The Mayers have upset the other middle-class white neighbors who want them gone, and they don't mind subjecting this black family to all forms of harassment to get the job done. Meanwhile, Gardener (Matt Damon) and his wife (Julianne Moore), her twin sister (also Moore), and his son, are threatened by loan shark goons. The family is never the same but there's more than meets the eye to this domestic tragedy, and the costly cover-up ensnares everyone in danger.
This is a movie that feels badly stitched together with competing ideas and storylines. Two of these competing movies are so haphazard and lazily explored that it feels like Clooney and company tacked them on for some sort of extra failed social commentary about The Way We Live Now. The shame of it is that either of these vestigial storylines could have existed as their own compelling movie. The integration of the suburbs with a black family brings about an intense reaction. Fellow suburbanites harass the family at all hours of the day, destroy personal property, and do everything to let them know they are unwelcome in this "good-natured" community. The reactions are so virulent and disgusting, and all for a family just existing on the block, shopping at the same grocery store, thinking they too were eligible for the American Dream. There's a movie there in its own right because, as evidenced in Suburbicon, it's just background for a larger indictment on suburban values hypocrisy that never generally materializes. At no point does Clooney give the racist response any depth, nuance, or even a deserving spotlight. The only thing we learn is that it's wrong, which should already be obvious. The entire storyline feels so unfairly attached to another unrelated movie. This family's story is worth telling right rather than just having something else to cut back to.
Then there's the larger satire on suburbia itself and its reported family values philosophy. Just because bad people exist and bad things happen in a "nice" community does not mean your satirical work is done. You're just supplying air quotes to your location. This is the most facile form of irony, lazily slapping together something vulgar against an idyllic setting of morality. That's why I had no interest in The Little Hours, a comedy that looked to be built around one sole joke, unexpectedly offensive nuns ("Oh ho, that pious person used profanity, and that will never not be funny"). Suburbicon is a story that could have existed in any setting, which further devalues any attempt at legitimate social satire. This isn't about The Way We Live Now or Even Then.
If you look closely you can see the bones of a Coen brothers' story here, the only movie of the three that could have worked for Suburbicon. An insurance fraud scam that involves murder and complications is a juicy start for a thriller with some dark comedy edges. This aspect of the movie is the most compelling because it's obvious that the most attention has been paid to it. Also, there are reversals and unexpected turns that keep the story twisting and turning while accessible. However, the impact of the story is limited by the fact that none of the characters are generally likeable or that interesting. You won't really feel anxiety over whether or not these people get away with their scheme, which deflates the film's acceleration of tension despite the best efforts of Alexadre Desplat to replicate an ominous Carter Burwell, a.k.a. "Coen brother," score. If you don't care about the characters then they better get into some crazy escalating collateral damage. For a while, it feels like Clooney and Suburbicon understand this principle and begin to ratchet up a body count, though oddly it's far too fast. Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens) turns up as a nosy insurance investigation and is taken care of only in his second appearance. The film doesn't take the time to force the characters to luxuriate in the unease. It just goes straight for the sudden violence, and after awhile it becomes pat and expected.
This is Clooney's weakest directorial effort yet. He's clearly working from the visual framework of the Coen brothers' classics, using the cookie-cutter production design of colorful suburbia for intended kitschy menace. Even some of the camera angles feel like something lifted from the Coen brothers. Alas, Clooney is not the Coens. He is a director capable of great things depending upon the subject matter, but this movie is a misfire from the start. Clooney cannot decide what the tone is supposed to be, so different actors seem to be operating in their own separate, competing movies. Damon (The Martian) is at either turn hapless or malevolent. I never knew what his read on his character was supposed to be. Moore (Kingsmen: The Golden Circle) is so over-the-top as a distressed housewife that you think she might start bouncing off the walls. It's only Isaac that feels like he finds the sweet spot of what Clooney must have been going for, and thus it's even more disappointing about his character's limited screen time.
Messy, tone deaf, and lacking greater commentary, Suburbicon is a fatally flawed, overbearing dark comedy that has things on its mind and no clear idea about how best to articulate them. It feels like dissonant movies badly stitched together. The overall execution is lazy and relies upon the simplest form of irony to substitute as subversive suburban satire. The tone veers too wildly and the actors are desperate for some better sense of grounding. The characters are pretty flat and poorly developed. It's an altogether mess that has a few inspired moments and a whole lot more uninspired. The victimized black family deserves to have their own movie and not be the backdrop of somebody else's broad comedy. The racism is far too real to mesh with the comic goofiness of the rest of the criminal shenanigans. Clooney needed to settle on the movie he wanted to tell. I doubt the final version of Suburbicon that I saw is close to the Coen's original screenplay. There may have been a good reason that they originally shelved it. Clooney shows that replicating the Coen look and style can be a fool's errand even by an otherwise talented director. This is the worst Coen brother movie and it's not even theirs.
Nate's Grade: C-
I'm all for unique and different when it comes to filmmaking, but when a unique film doesn't do anything to intrigue its audience, aside from a consistent tone and setting, then it's not really all that impressive in the end. Suburbicon is George Clooney's latest attempt at direction, and I feel pretty much the same about this film as I did about many of his other works. A tone, story, and time period is all set up, but the way each of his films play out have seemed to leave a lot to be desired in my opinion. That is once again the case with Suburbicon, being a little too confident in itself when it came to presenting a powerful story. Here is why I think you could probably skip this one in theatres, but the effort put into it may warrant a rental if you're looking for something new to watch.
Gardner's family is tested when a group of men invade his home, killing his wife and leaving only his son and sister-in-law alive. Falling for his wife's sister and becoming a complete psychotic and uncontrollable man, this film quickly spirals out of control into a farce of random occurrences. Throughout the first act of this film, it seems like it's going to be a satire that won't hold anything back in terms of wackiness, but that's very quickly thrown out the window, compensating with many subplots of murder and conspiracy. I found myself taken out of the film when the tone would shift this often, making for a very off-putting viewing experience.
Throughout the majority of this film, you're asked to accept the horrible things that the main characters are doing, or just connect with Gardner's young boy on an emotional level, but he's not quite present enough in my opinion. Not until the third act do you really fin yourself caring about some of the characters, which was too late for me. This movie tries far too hard to be clever, funny, and surprising, that it just comes off as forced more often than not. You will find yourself along for a ride of random events and you won't really know who to root for.
I may seem to be ripping this film apart for being un even, but for throughout all its flaws, there are actually quite a few great aspects, especially the sequence involving an appearance by Oscar Isaac. There is a lengthy scene when secrets are revealed and characters begin to evolve and Oscar Isaac elevated every moment of this portion of the film. Up until that point, there really weren't any characters to grasp onto, but the environment around them, along with the sets and the score, always helped to make the film feel more authentic than what its screenplay was presenting. This may sound confusing, but that's due to the fact that this is a very confusing watch, and I feel that many people will agree with me on that account.
From being written by Joel and Ethan Coen (who's recent track record hasn't really impressed me recently), to being competently directed by George Clooney, to having racial undertones to help give the film depth, to showcasing some great moments of comedy, Suburbicon just feels like a huge missed opportunity, due to the talent involved. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore deliver solid performances here and the score by Alexandre Desplat is definitely what sucked me into this movie, even throughout the moments that annoyed me. In the end, I feel as though the positives slightly outweigh the negatives, so I can generously give it a pass. This is about as average as you can get in terms of having a clever setting and premise, only to never fully deliver on either front. Suburbicon isn't quite worth seeing in theatres, but it may please hardcore fans of the Coen brother's past work.
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