In his latest collaboration with the Coen brothers, George Clooney the actor shone in his whimsical portrayal of a politically confused film star in Hail Ceasar! As a director, however, Clooney seems to still be playing the role of a politically confused film star – only this time it’s not funny, it’s simply a failure. His new film Suburbicon was written by the brilliant Coen brothers back in the 80s, only to be disregarded by the pair and unfortunately picked up by Clooney years later.
The film follows the story of Matt Damon’s character Gardner Lodge, who lives in a typical suburban neighborhood in the 1950s with his son Nicky, his paraplegic wife and her sister, both played by Julianne Moore. The opening sequence calls for a few laughs; while depicting the “wonder” of Suburbicon, a narrator brags about the diversity of the town: “we’ve got people from all over the states – New York, Ohio, and even Mississippi!” The joke, of course, comes from the pictures of these families, all of whom are white and practically identical. Unfortunately, this brief gag is just about where the satire of the film ends, leaving the audience with a sense confusion instead of laughs.
The story is essentially trying to carve out a dark comedy about a man and a woman who have committed a crime and who are now shamelessly attempting to avoid the repercussions. This story is fine, typical of a Coen brother’s film during which the intersecting themes of duplicity, morality, family, and money all come out to play in an engaging way. The problem lies not in the film’s primary plot, but rather, in an ill-placed, vague and problematic side-plot.
As the film commences, we see the Meyers, an African-American family, move into the Suburbicon neighbourhood, sprouting horribly concerned chaos. As the film’s main plot moves along, so does the camera, panning over to the family next door who become increasingly terrorised by the racist, white supremacists in the neighbourhood that band together in mobs to destroy the Meyers’ family home, car and dignity.
The damage done to this family is immense and in 2017, with the revival of race-related hate crimes and white supremacy in the United States, this film’s ill-regard to the suffering happening in the house next door to the story’s main plot is egregiously inappropriate. These two stories never seem to cross over or have any real significance to one another, except for a scene in which the mob terrorising the Meyers’ family becomes so immense that Matt Damon’s character is able to brutally murder someone in the middle of the street without anybody noticing. As the film trails on, it becomes uncomfortably realised that the abuse of the family next door is simply used as a trivial distraction for the continuation of the primary plot following a white family.
If you’re expecting to see a film that rings with the same comedic edge of a typical Coen brothers film, you’ll surely be disappointed. In picking up and re-writing a script previously disregard by the brothers, Clooney seems to miss the mark on recreating the essential elements which continually draw loyal audiences to all Coen brothers related work.
In the end, the film could have been used as a powerful satire on the atrocities of white supremacy, in the same vein of Jordan Peele’s successful comedy-horror Get Out, but instead Suburbicon focuses its lens on a seemingly unimportant story of a crazy white family, and loses its radical capability.
Image: Paramount Pictures and Black Bear Pictures courtesy of Entertainment One