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Suburbicon Movie Review

Suburbicon (2017) movie poster Suburbicon

Theatrical Release: October 27, 2017 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: George Clooney / Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov

Cast: Matt Damon (Gardner Lodge), Julianne Moore (Margaret Lodge, Rose Lodge), Noah Jupe (Nicky Lodge), Glenn Fleshler (Ira), Alex Hassell (Louis), Gary Basaraba (Uncle Mitch), Oscar Isaac (Bud Cooper), Jack Conley (Sergeant Hightower), Karimah Westbrook (Mrs. Mayers), Tony Espinosa (Andy Mayers), Leith Burke (Mr. Mayers)


Having starred in four of their films, George Clooney's taste for Joel and Ethan Coen is no secret. Now, Clooney gets a chance to direct a Coen brothers movie in Suburbicon,
which he and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov have updated from a script the Coens penned back in 1986 after their debut Blood Simple.

Very much a Coen brothers movie, Suburbicon is set in the eponymous middle American suburb in 1959. The town as established as an idyllic paradise, where traffic is non-existent, everybody knows everybody, and everybody gets along. But Suburbicon is rocked when the friendly postman brings mail to the newest residents who have just moved in. They are a black family of three and that is a shock or an outrage to their unanimously WASP neighbors.

As well-mannered and well-off as anyone in the neighborhood, the African American family faces vocal opposition which grows to include custom grocery store price hiking and all-hours noise outside their home. This is the backdrop to our main narrative, which involves advertising exec Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wheelchair-bound wife and her sister (both Julianne Moore), and shy young son Nicky (Noah Jupe).

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) gets a visit from insurance fraud investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) in "Suburbicon."

Our first look at the Lodges' home life sees them being robbed by two calm yet demanding thugs (Glenn Fleshler and Michael D. Cohen), who hit all four of the milquetoast family members with chloroform-soaked rags. The injured matriarch doesn't survive the incident and the family is devastated. But not all is what it seems. The fallout of that crime evolves as the Lodges are called in to identify suspects in a police lineup and later investigated for fraud by an insurance man (Oscar Isaac).

Clooney hasn't really established a distinctive, identifiable voice as a director, but even if he had, it would be secondary here to the Coens', whose imprint is all over this period black comedy. As you should know by now, the Coen brothers are not for everyone. Their 2007 Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men won Best Picture at the Oscars, but it is just one of a number of the siblings' films that many swear by. Others include Fargo, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, and The Big Lebowski. Critics and cineastes tend to gush over their work, but the general public is often more divided, as evidenced by their typically modest box office showings (their accessible 2010 True Grit remake being the one big outlier).

Suburbicon is certain to draw a similarly mixed reaction. At the moment, the film sports just a 4.7 out of 10 rating on IMDb. Rotten Tomatoes isn't much more enthusiastic, with average scores around 5 out of 10 and an early overall approval rating of just 40%. Moviegoers exiting my advance screening, a demographic that is usually won over by the thrill of seeing something for free before it's even released, were far from enthusiastic.

Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) bonds with Andy Mayers (Tony Espinosa), the son of the just-moved-in African-American family the rest of Suburbicon has not warmed to.

This is a dark tale that is light on sympathetic characters. In fact, there's really just one lead who's good to the core and that's Nicky, who barely gets to open his mouth. But Suburbicon isn't asking you to love these people. It's just asking you to go along for the ride and it's a fun, witty ride with impeccable period atmosphere and relevant social commentary that invites comparisons to Get Out.

Damon's natural charm is essential to you cheering for him, even as he proves to have one of the least sympathetic roles he's ever played. Isaac sizzles in the kind of role you could imagine the late Jon Polito playing if the Coens were directing. Moore's roles are confusing, but she handles them well. Jupe is a young newcomer who's easy to acquit.
As Uncle Mitch, Gardner's bulky, Catholic brother-in-law, Gary Basaraba is mesmerizing in limited screentime. If this movie wasn't probably going to be dead on arrival commercially, then his name is one I would like to see lagging not too far behind perceived/deserving Supporting Actor frontrunners Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Sam Rockwell (the Coen-esque Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) in Oscar forecasts.

While Clooney and Damon are regarded as two of the biggest names in Hollywood, they've actually both had more commercial disappointments than triumphs. It seems likely that Suburbicon will join the misses, saddled with tepid reviews since premiering at Venice that anticipate minimal award season prospects and probably toxic word of mouth. But all of that doesn't change the fact that there is much more to admire and appreciate in this than many a new film.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Wonderstruck The Florida Project Only the Brave Goodbye Christopher Robin mother!
Directed by George Clooney: The Monuments Men The Ides of March
Matt Damon: Contagion The Martian The Great Wall Jason Bourne Margaret Behind the Candelabra
Julianne Moore: Still Alice The Kids Are All Right | Oscar Isaac: A Most Violent Year Ex Machina

Written by the Coen Brothers:
A Serious Man Fargo The Big Lebowski Gambit Blood Simple.
No Country for Old Men True Grit Inside Llewyn Davis Hail, Caesar!

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Reviewed October 27, 2017.

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