It’s rather difficult to dislike George Clooney. Even in bad movies, he is very charming and that seems to translate into real life. Though not charming enough to make me buy overpriced coffee machines, that is the limit of your on-screen power Mr Clooney. However with Clooney having achieved pretty much everything to achieve as a screen actor, he has decided he wants to go behind the camera and make movies rather than just be in them. And with movies such as The Ides of March and The Monuments Men under his belt, he is confident enough to take on something such as Suburbicon. But is it any good?
In what seems to be a perfect 1950s community, things start to change. The residents become concerned when a black family moves in while a home invasion at the house of Gardner (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting) results in the death of his wife Rose (Julianne Moore, The Hours), causing even more shock.
So you can tell what this movie is at its core just from the synopsis. Like many a movie set in the 1950s, it’s about how on the surface everything seems perfect and picturesque but when you do the slightest bit of digging, you discover there’s a lot of darkness and bigotry within. It’s a story that has been told a lot over the years mostly because of the nostalgia for that time period because it looks so nice but of course we forget all the social advances we have made over the years which allow people other than white men to have a say in this world. There’s nothing wrong with exposing this once again but the movie needs to do it in a different way. Unfortunately, this movie just shows the worst aspects of racism with very little commentary other than this is bad. We know people were racist in the 1950s, it isn’t a huge revelation. You have to do something a bit different than just show it, especially in a post-Get Out world.
What’s worse is that it does not contribute to the main story at all. The main story is about the aftermath of the home invasion of Gardner’s home and all the secrets that get revealed. In the background though is this black family that moves in the the rest of the residents getting increasingly crazy about it. Apart from some brief interactions between the two families, there’s no cohesion between the two stories. You’ve got two completely different things happening and both distract from each other. Some may be more interested in the rioting happening by the black family (The Mayers) house while some may be more interested in the secrets of the Lodge family. That’s fair. But whatever you do like gets stopped dead in its tracks to see what is happening at the other family and the lack of focus means neither plot can have the effect it wants to have.
So maybe the story about the Lodge family and all their secrets revolving around the home invasion is more interesting. Well it is, though if the movie thinks its twists are big its kidding itself because it is obvious what is happening about ten minutes in. But I don’t think the movie cares too much about that so that’s not an issue. The problem is that once again this is too familiar. Because it’s all about normal folk trying to do heinous things, it feels like a cut price Coen brothers movie, though that might be down to the fact it is the Coen brothers who wrote it. Throughout this movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about Fargo because this plot is very similar, just replace Minnesota with 1950s surburbia and you’ve pretty much got the same thing. And throughout the movie, I just wonder why I’m not watching Fargo instead. It’s much better in pretty much every way, so why should I watch a 1950s version?
This isn’t a terrible movie and there are things to like about the movie as well. As much as I’ve criticised the plot for being familiar, it is still decent and leads to some enjoyable scenes. There’s some very creative things and one brilliantly done bit is when the police catch the home invaders and ask Gardner and Margaret to identify them. That’s when their son Nicky (Noah Jupe, The Night Manager) sneaks in and discovers that things aren’t as they seen. It’s a really well done scene and for all the criticism I’ve poured onto this movie, shows that Clooney does have talent as a director and just needs to work on the focus of his movies a lot more and realise some things need cutting.
And it looks fantastic as well. Clooney obviously loves the aesthetic because he goes all in on the sets and the costumes which do a very good job of bringing you back to a nostalgic time that probably didn’t exist. That’s the main art with these type of films, make it all seem perfect and then hit you with the evil that hides underneath. And yes that is a tired trope and it doesn’t work here because the evil is the same evil you see in other movies of its tripe but the set-up at least works because they do make this place look so wonderful. There’s even a cheesy opening video asking you to move there which has a great joke about the diversity of the place which has people who have come from New York, Ohio and Mississippi. Because that’s diversity according to this place.
Surburbicon is a huge disappointment. When I saw the trailers I was hoping for something great but we’ve ended up with Clooney doing his version of a Coen brothers movie and doing it badly. The movie is way too familiar to anyone who has watched anything of this type before. We know that the 1950s was racist and while it’s fine to show that, you need to have a different way of showing it. And try not to completely rip off the brilliant Fargo while you are at it as well? Because of that, this movie is a let down.