Film – Suburbicon


With the George Clooney directed film out on DVD today, Steve Taylor-Bryant and massive spoilers move to the suburbs to review Suburbicon...

I’m not the Coen Brothers aficionado I wish I was. Their films are either brilliant or not, but I never come out of a Coen Brothers film thinking I had seen anything other than some comedy. That’s fine by the way, the style of comedy they can pull off is quite astonishing, but it's not always going to hit the mark. The Coen films I tend to lean towards are the ones that star George Clooney who is an actor I admire greatly and think he adds a little depth to Coen projects. A director I greatly admire is also George Clooney, but I don’t really see him as a comedy director, and so I entered Suburbicon not really knowing what I was going to get. What I watched was an obvious Coen Brothers situational script that had been heavily rewritten by Clooney and long-time film partner, Grant Heslov, that added layers of reality and human stories to the comedy to produce something quite magical.

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic, suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns -- the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge must navigate the town's dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit and violence.

Firstly, I must mention Robert Elswit, the Oscar winning cinematographer, who has, yet again, added a beautifully shot film to his portfolio of beautifully shot films. Whether the idyllic daytime panorama of 1950’s suburbia, or the darkened road, or the tragic inside of the family home, or the office building that, for some reason, kept reminding me of The Hudsucker Proxy until I remembered that was also a Coen Brothers film, Elswit shows he truly is one of the best Director of Photography exponents in the industry and his eye for colour and mood in a shot elevates Suburbicon high above any other film that portrays 1950’s America.

Then we come to what Elswit is there to film, the story of Gardner (Matt Damon) and his family. What a story, what a mix of evil doing, what a story of never ending cock ups, all played out by a cast that are obviously having a blast on set. Julianne Moore is spellbinding as Margaret, the sister that just wants her brother in law to the extent that murder seems to come quite easily for her despite the fact it maybe doing more harm to her dreams than good. But, as Rose at the start of the film, she plays the mild mannered wife in a wheelchair from a car accident, and you feel really sorry for the family before the tale unfolds and you begin to suspect that the car accident was probably not an accident at all, more an attempt at murder gone wrong. Because that is what Damon’s character is doing. He is trying to dispose of his wife for the insurance money, so he can spend his life with the more sexual and exciting sister, he’s just not very good at it. He stages a home invasion that finally does for Rose, but his story falls apart to his son Nicky (Noah Jupe) when he sees his father and aunt not point out the perpetrators in a line up. Then the pesky insurance investigator in the shape of Oscar Isaac’s Bud Cooper turns up pointing out all the red flags in their claim for Rose’s life insurance policy. Poisoned by Margaret, Gardner now must finish off Bud and dispose of the body, whilst avoiding the mob enforcers that want their money for Rose’s murder. Then there is Mitch (Gary Basaraba), Rose and Margaret’s brother, who suspects something is wrong and comes to save his nephew, but stumbles into yet another house invasion as the enforcers want their money, and eventually succumbs to a knife attack himself. The only people left now are father and son, sat in the kitchen covered in blood. Gardner threatens to kill Nicky if he doesn’t stick to the made-up story, all the time eating a peanut butter sandwich and drinking milk that had been made for Nicky by Margaret and laced with pills that will kill. And so, then there is one. And the whole thing plays out across the road from the depiction of a real story of overt racism as an entire white, suburban community spend every day and night trying to force out the first black family to move in to the neighbourhood.

Suburbicon is a majestic film. It mixes all that is good from a George Clooney directed film; character stories, emotional depth, a human problem to face up to and converse over. It takes all that is holy for some fans from a Coen Brothers film; the weird and unexpected humour, the situations that are hilarious before a word of dialogue is even spoken. It shows what a beautiful, top drawer cinematographer can accomplish in a short space of time in a film that comes across erratic. It proves the point that casting is key, and it’s the casting that is most memorable to me. Julianne Moore is as brilliant as always, playing every emotion possible on her face, whilst looking and speaking like a Stepford Wife. I am now convinced that Moore is the greatest actor of her generation, she can do anything and everything and is always just so good. Oscar Isaac is funny in the small role he has and probably elevates the character of Bud higher than maybe it was on the page, and Noah Jupe was just sheer brilliance, acting with skill and maturity way beyond his years. 

But it's Matt Damon I must talk about. I used to love Matt Damon, he was an actor that turned everything he touched to gold. I don’t know what happened a few years ago, whether he just began to believe his own hype, or maybe he changed his team of advisors, but his decision making when it came to projects went drastically wrong. His performances in films seemed to be a bit phoned in. He just wasn’t good anymore. Until Suburbicon, until he played Gardner. I don’t know whether its being on set with his friend Clooney, I don’t know whether it's Clooney bringing something out of him that he didn’t know he had, I don’t know if it's that he finally believes in the material he’s making, but this is the best Matt Damon film for many a year. He is frustrated, he is weak, he is corporate evil, he is a 1950’s bastard of a parent, he has a swagger, he nails his lines, his comedic timing is perfect. If he never makes another film again, this would be a great send off. He’s going to make more films though and I fear they will be more like The Great Wall or Downsizing, than Suburbicon or The Good Shepherd (the last film he was in I can honestly say he had a flawless performance in).

Incredibly funny, dark and twisted, beautiful to look at  and with a cast to marvel at. Welcome to Suburbicon.

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Image - IMDb