Matt Damon in a scene from “SUBURBICON” courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Watching a movie like “Suburbicon” is such a dissatisfying feeling when you look at the talent roster and see Matt Damon, George Clooney, Oscar Isaac, Joel and Ethan Coen involved and are forced to evaluate where this film went wrong. With a pair of Golden Globes and Oscar nominations on his resume, Clooney is an A-lister for sure, basically allowing the freedom to direct whatever he wants. He sure lets his flag fly with “Suburbicon” a supposedly dark satirical take on the ho-hum baby boomer generation of the 1950s. Except, there’s not much comedy to balance the darker undertones, and it also has a political commentary and racial subplot that doesn’t quite say exactly what it wants.
The film does open with a tongue and cheek homage to those cheery 1950s infomercials detailing the hunky dorey, very caucasian, breadwinning lifestyle and community of Suburbicon. At least, it starts off well enough until the local mailman makes a shocking discovery about the neighbors next door: they’re a different color skin tone then him. Cut to the “Suburbicon Betterment Committee” and the angry white folk screaming how they support segregation, but the “negro has to show he’s ready” first. This slowly sets up the type of place these people are living in. This plot wants to be some triade on social justice, which I do respect, it just feels misguided and not on par with the Coen’s past socially charged plot narratives. Remember “Fargo?”
As for the main story, Damon is Gardner and he’s just hired a pair of goons to murder his wheelchair stricken wife, Margaret (Julianne Moore) for a hefty insurance check. All of it seems to go well enough, he’s planned to send his son Nicky (Noah Jupe) off to a military prep academy and desert to an exotic location with Margaret’s sister, Rose (also Moore). The initial home invasion sequence is fairly intense and sinister, a testament to Clooney’s staging, and that’s what, mostly, keeps the momentum in the films favor until it teters towards a second act that just comes up empty handed.
My favorite part of “Suburbicon,” aside from a very tantalizing musical score that adds some flavor, is the character work of Isaac who shows up midway through the film as Bud Cooper (what a name!) an insurance claims investigator who comes snooping around. Or, as he says, “trying to find Hanky Panky.” Isaac adds a nice surprise late in the game, in fact, I’d rather just watch a movie on his past cases (he goes on a tangent for five minutes about his career in fraud - and it’s more interesting than the movie itself). But it only get’s more frustrating when you find out, spoiler alert, he just wants a piece of the insurance pie too. And like clockwork, the one interesting character just became unredeemable.
On the acting front, Damon just kind’ve goes through the motions as Gardner, a pencil pusher whose scheme slowly starts to crumble right from under him, and Moore brings the correct delivery to a character that’s reverted to a housewife and mistress, but it was to annoying and bubbly for my taste.
With that said, I’ll never be able to comprehend how such Oscar caliber talent managed to let this one slip away from their grasp, I suppose maybe it could serve as a lesson. Just because you’ve got the star power, doesn’t mean the script is as smart or witty as you think, and a dark comedy only works, if there’s balance.
“Suburbicon” has none. C-