The mystery in this great-looking film from George Clooney is why the director mismatches social satire with a murder story
24 November, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Matt Damon as Gardner Lodge and Julianne Moore as his wife Rose
Directed by George Clooney
This film is a case of style over substance. It looks good but fundamentally fails to marry its attributes of a strong cast and great set design with anything approaching a story that engages.
Director George Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov had penned a script on the events that took place in Pennsylvania in 1957, when a black family moved into a newly built estate and faced racist protests. Somehow, Clooney then recalled a murder mystery script the Coen brothers had sent him in 1999 – and came up with an idea of combining them. As this film unfolds, it is not clear why Clooney decided to do this.
Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) are living on a pristine development called Suburbicon. They have a boy, Nick (Noah Jupe) and Rose’s sister Margaret (also Moore), helping out around the house, as Rose is partially able due to a car accident.
Things go horribly wrong when a pair of street toughs break in and drug the family so they can raid the home – leading to Rose’s death. And things get messier as a tangled web of deceit emerges.
Meanwhile, next door, the Meyers family move in and becomes the focus of extraordinary racial hatred by the neighbours. It is not made clear at any point why this might be linked to what is going on in the Lodge household – except to perhaps flag up how pristine lawns and polished cars do not a civilisation make.
With these two odd stories sitting side by side, it feels there must be a meaning in there. Is Clooney talking about how utterly rotten the edifice of the US is today and, seemingly, has always been? There is a story of personal greed and then a wider tale of intolerance.
There are some elements that make it easy on the eye. The set design is terrific, with a pastiche Americana reminding one of the Coens’ superb Hudsucker Proxy, a movie they made five years before they wrote Suburbicon.
It feels like it could be a take on the fantastic James M Cain novel Double Indemnity – but then fails abysmally to get anywhere near Cain’s storytelling.
If Clooney has tried to create a parable for the demise of the nation state, he has failed to be clear that is his aim. If he has tried to make a dark comedy, then he forgot to include jokes.