Movie Review: ‘SUBURIBICON’, a daring but misguided murder mystery

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

SUBURBICON

Rated R, 104 min.
Director: George “Cloondog” Clooney
Cast: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, and Noah Jupe

Coming into the Toronto International Film Festival, George Clooney’s SUBURIBCON had everything in its corner: a winning cast (featuring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac), a prescient message in the age of Trump, and an abandoned script by the Coen brothers. Making this a hit is shooting fish in a barrel… or so they thought.

Going out of TIFF, the hodge-podge of a movie was long forgotten. Any hope of grasping awards and box office dollars waned faster than you can say, “SUBURIBCON stinks!”

However, Clooney’s film is a lot of things, but outright terrible it is not. Despite its roundabout way of making a point on racial ethics, the film is dipped into a half-baked murder mystery that’s oddly daring and quite possibly incompetent (although the material works in a chin stroking kind of way).

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) enjoying a nice PB&J for dinner. (photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Gardner Lodge (Damon) is just another guy in Suburbicon: a community with 60,000 white people living harmoniously in a safe little bubble with nothing but ugliness underneath. Gardner resides with his differently abled wife Margaret (Moore) and her sister (also played by Moore) and their son Nicky (Noah Jupe). A home invasion sends the town into turmoil, but these supposed good people are too concerned with heckling the Lodge’s new neighbors, an African-American family who chooses to ignore the constant harassment.

Clooney’s film is unfocused, but somehow that’s what make it a fascinating filmmaking exercise. It feels like the creative team —including long-time Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov — either made this film on a dare, or they had a little too much confidence in their reach for relevant social commentary. Either way the flawed, yet completely gripping thriller never knows where it wants to go, or what movie it wants to be. Damon plays Lodge as stiff as a board and crooked as as a barrel of fish hooks. On the exterior, he’s a know-nothing executive with apple pie and baseball at home, yet there’s a dark streak underneath. Damon is best when he’s playing stupid; just go back and watch his work in the woefully underrated Steven Soderbergh film THE INFORMANT.

It’s only Isaac who is note-perfect in his menacing role as a insurance claims adjuster that nails the farcical elements at play. This quick albeit pivotal role opposite Moore shows you what a more realized version of this film could have been.

SUBURBICON is one of the more meandering Coen brothers’ scripts. Without a reason, the events unfold for the purpose of plot; these are beats that would cause many films to collapse. And while it seems if this directorial effort already has, in part, it works due to the film’s inherent confidence. Personally, I feel a bit hypocritical giving Clooney’s film on pass on elements that would pan another film. It’s that Clooney mystique that allows the film to be charming in a pseudo intellectual kind of way.

Here we have a “comedic” jab at the blind privilege of the upper-middle class, and it’s Clooney’s most ambitious work since 2005’s GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK. While the film doesn’t amount to the sum of its parts, SUBURBICON always has the gears turning even if the outcome does leave its big names behind the eight ball.

Grade: B-