29 October 2017| No Comments on Suburbicon     by Sean Chavel


You can’t fault George Clooney for lack of courage. Clooney has taken a Coen Brothers script called Suburbicon that never got made by the esteemed Brothers, and Clooney has rather directed an imitation of vintage Coen Brothers (Clooney doesn’t appear in it). The result, a crime thriller and black comedy set in 1959, is a variation on “Blood Simple” or “Fargo” of family values gone amok with descent into bloodshed. Matt Damon has played scoundrels before most memorably in “The Departed and” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, but his character Gardner Lodge is a spooky kind of corporate dweeb-drone that is clearly from the bygone ’50’s era, officious, narcissistic and closeted with his deviant desires. Signs of abnormal detached behavior are revealed in his reaction to his wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore) being murdered in the beginning by two house burglars.

Gardner survives along with his young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) as well as his wife’s identical twin sister Margaret (also played by Moore), and the police are out to find the killers, except they probe in all the wrong places. Gardner is consoled by his neighbors and corporate colleagues constantly, but he simply wants to go on with his business which includes making loving promises to his wife’s sister Margaret, who lavishes upon him. Gardner also wants to send his son off to boarding school so he can travel with Margaret to Aruba. Why there? Because the food is interesting and exotic. Sort of a 1950’s cracker thing to say. When you’ve been a pencil pusher your entire life, you don’t have many perceptive things to say.

Meanwhile, the first African-American family, the Mayers, have moved to the neighborhood (Nick is innocently good friends with their boy). Protesters start showing up to harass this black family which escalates to acts of vandalism bordering on venom. These neighbors acting out contempt in the open are every bit as deplorable as the KKK. Since everybody is so obsessed with this black family they insist don’t belong, they all seem ignorantly unaware of the iniquitous goings-on of Gardner. Also people at large are unaware by the fact that two strange thugs – the same men who murdered the wife – keep turning up, for what else, to collect extortion money that seemed to have been promised to them.

The great actor Oscar Isaac shows up as a claims inspector who smells something fishy with Rose’s life insurance policy in which Gardner would stand to collect a fortune. Isaac is incredibly smooth in carving out the truth surrounding the dead wife, in what is a true blue Coen Brothers scene. Margaret is that typical 1950’s American homemaker that would no skills in standing up to the boys.

With so many interesting predicaments going on, why am I so down on “Suburbicon” then?

The movie honestly had me. Then it just completely falls apart in the final third when everybody starts trying to knock each other off, with things getting more illogical by the minute. Oh, I just resented so many moments, yet let me check-off a few. Gardner comes up with hackneyed ideas in how to deal with the pile-up of dead bodies. When one of the “bad” guys (well, they’re all bad but there’s bad and badder) gets abruptly hit by a fire truck, Clooney’s visualization of it is done with such split-second flash that it doesn’t even have any black comic charge – it’s just an improbable happenstance. Then at one point, Gardner is negotiating with his son in a way you’d think he negotiate with a hoodlum, and the film is just going too far in the extreme to make the point that this is a sociopath that doesn’t have feelings for his son. Nobody is really on this young boy’s side, really. With all this climax coming down in one night, you’d think that Gardner and his son would collide dramatically with the nasty business that’s happening with that African-American family on the opposite suburban street, but you can’t expect these two parallel storylines to intersect. You can’t make such expectations when logic has already been tossed out the door. But come on. Somebody needed to look at this script and say, “This doesn’t make sense, we need a re-write.”

If I did come away with anything from “Suburbicon” it’s the same thing I learned from the movie “Pleasantville” in that the 1950’s were deceptively pleasant, but Clooney’s execution has a reeking, racist, vile undertow that leaves you feeling rather gloomy. “Suburbicon” is a blunt instrument, while “Pleasantville” was more poetic about its message.

I like George Clooney a lot, especially when he’s in front of the camera, but “The Ides of March” (2011) is the only movie out of the last four he’s directed that I’ve liked.

105 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Fargo” (1996); “Pleasantville” (1998); “The Ladykillers” (2004); “Revolutionary Road” (2008).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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