Aida Vucic | 25/10/2017
The picturesque township of Suburbicon, with its manicured lawns and '"law abiding citizens", like the film itself, has a few unattended hedges that don't quite sit well.
We're introduced to the township by way of a satirical advert, reiterating the wholesomeness that is Surburbicon. However, this pleasant disposition is limited to individuals who meet the citizens standards - put simply, white Americans. So when the Myers (an African American family) arrive in Suburbicon, they're greeted with hostility, with the locals intent on driving the family out through intimidation.
Amidst this display of intolerance is the neighbouring families own experience of brutality, as there home has seemingly been broken into by two burglars. During the course of the robbery the occupants, including Gardner (Matt Damon), his son, Nick (Noah Jupe), Nick's disabled mother Rose (Julianne Moore) and Aunt Maggie (Rose's twin sister) (Julianne Moore again), are knocked unconscious with chloroform. Alas, when they awake, they find that Rose had died during the burglary.
Its unclear as to why the film lacks the impact it had intended, it may be due to the blunt nature in which it deals with the treatment of the Meyers. Clooney's intention to elicit a strong response from audiences is obvious but successful it is not. This is probably a consequence of the limited insight provided about the Meyers family. They are placeholders representing the entirety of the african-american population at that time, and in that way Clooney is able to make his case about racial injustice (one of three themes running through this piece) wider than just Suburbicon. But it also means that we don't really get to know these characters, and thus the violence and horror being visited upon them is muted through a lens of emotional distance.
Indeed, while the focus is largely on the proceedings in Gardner's house across the way, we are briefly introduced to the youngest member of the Meyers family in his burgeoning friendship with Nick. Whenever the racial discrimination affects this young man, it is with a much more powerful, emotional effect, because we know this character.
The ineffectiveness is mirrored in the telling of the murder mystery happening at Nick's house, where Clooney largely eschews any prolonged "whodunnit" scenario to instead create a Tarantino-esque explosive single-location finale. There's certainly something interesting there, and the introduction to the family and the burglary is directed in a unique way that rewards the viewer for not requiring a tonne of exposition up-front, but it's lost in the ensuing drama over the insurance money for the dead mother and the police investigation into who killed her. Clooney doesn't keep this mystery strong enough narratively, which means that when everything goes to shit at the end, we simultaneously don't know enough about the eventual villains plan to be rooting for their success, nor do we know little enough for it to be a surprising and shocking ending.
That being said, it is certainly interesting to play on the pre-defined viewer expectation of what a character played by Matt Damon is, and Clooney seemingly enjoys twisting our expectations to keep us guessing. Matt Damon helps this along, giving a great performance that never quite lets you know if he is good, bad or faking both. The rest of the cast don't step a foot out of place, though MVP would have to go to Oscar Isaac, whose brief role as the insurance investigator is the most memorable and entertaining character in the film.
Clooney tries to juggle too much in Suburbicon, leading to a muted impact on all fronts. For a film about a town away from the big cities, it's ironic that the movie itself, while enjoyable enough to watch, is overcrowded.