TIFF Review: ‘Suburbicon’ is a Disappointing Effort From George Clooney

Maybe it is only the Coen Brothers who should direct the scripts they write? They have an inherent understanding of the tone of their work that I am not sure other directors possess. I mean is George Clooney’s Suburbicon, written by the Coens, a black comedy or satire? It feels like a black comedy with its bouncy fifties music that opens the film, but never quite jells as a whole. The two stories told in the film, sometimes intertwine, yet never become a cohesive whole.

Though it always promises to be headed into the realm of the blankly hilarious, it never gets there. The film opens with the lovely ads for Suburbicon, a major housing development in the fifties, that becomes its own community, when, horrors, a successful black family moves in, drawing stares of disapproval. They keep to themselves as fences are erected around their home, they are made to feel unwelcome in the grocery store, and eventually are targeted as though their white neighbours were all clan.

Not far from them, Lodge (Matt Damon) wakes his son in the middle of the night with news there are men in the house. They are indeed, bad men, dangerous men, murderous men. They tie the family up, Lodge, his wife and her sister, twins played by Julianne Moore and the boy, but the mother dies from excessive exposure to chloroform, leaving Lodge a widower and the child motherless. Quick as a whip, the twin sister moves in, and things smell bad. Very bad.

Seems Lodge is no innocent, and in fact hired the men to kill his wife. Wanting their share of the life insurance money, they begin to squeeze Lodge and things spiral out of control. As the surrounding neighbors wage maniacal war on the black family, purely decent people, there is a bloodbath taking place in the Lodge home that few know about. When a snoopy insurance investigator comes creeping around, the nightmare is quickly escalated.

George Clooney is a fine actor and gifted director, and I keep seeing him in the Damon role because that is the kind of role he does well, that slightly bewildered man who cannot believe what is happening around him. Damon brings more menace to the role, to the extent we do not know if he will go as far as to off his own son? It is a solid performance from Damon, just not very interesting. Moore has even less to do as two women, one wheelchair bound as a brittle, angry woman, while her sister clearly lusts after her husband but proves non too bright.

Oscar Isaac is brilliant as the knowing, sleazy insurance investigator, who rightly smells a rat, though it could be his own stench he smells. You could strip away the story of the black family and not lose a thing. And that is sad, because the Coens do not write throw aways. Disappointing, a huge disappointment.

Rating: 2/5