I imagine George Clooney was feeling pretty woke when he filmed this. I’m not sure why he thought he’d be the one to nail a story on the struggles of a black family on the front lines of integration, it’s possible that he didn’t. That at least would explain why this family ain’t given a story, nor any real character, or lines, or even first names.
The film opens on their arrival into the town, cuts swiftly to a home owners’ association angrily protesting their presence. After that, throughout the film, we just see crowds amassing around their house, them cowering nervously inside until the end where a riot breaks out and the property is destroyed.
This all just happens. I suppose we’re seeing it all because their house neighbours the one of our charming, pretty, white protagonists, but whatever impact is has on their lives or actions remains completely unexplored. Even the baying mob and conspicuous police presence, supposedly not 100 metres from their back door appear and disappear whenever convenient.
Perhaps this is a very deliberate statement, how white allies concern themselves with minority suffering only when convenient. More likely Clooney, who also had a pen in the script, was too enamoured with the image; a baying white mob in his meticulously constructed 50s suburb. I mean, at least he didn’t go in and get all white savioury about it, and Karimah Westbrook and Leith Burke put in a couple of good performances despite the material they’re given.
But George Clooney didn’t know how to tell this story. And George Clooney didn’t know how to tie the story into the rest of his film. And George Clooney went ahead with it anyway. The film would be better if it were excised completely, no one was about to criticise Clooney’s allyship over this, he could have simply cast more diverse without making it a whole thing. Instead he fucked it. And as interestingly bad as this subplot is, it has so little to do with the rest of the movie that Imma just stop talking about it here.
So the script was adapted by Clooney and his longtime writing/producing partner Grant Heslov from an early script by the Coen brothers. Apparently they wrote it back in the eighties and shelved it. Starring Matt Damon as a husband who arranges with some petty gangsters the murder of his wife (Julianne Moore), in order so that he can elope with his sister-in-law (also Julianne Moore). Then when his son sees more than he should and it seems like the plan may blow up in all their faces the husband, the sister-in-law, and the gangsters all have to scramble to try come out on top.
The script is pretty rough, and honestly isn’t helped by the fact that the Coen’s themselves already worked most of its best ideas into their own, better pictures. The gangster, murder plot stuff can all be found in Fargo, the more gonzo aspects found their way into Lebowski, their fifties satire movie is The Hudsucker Proxy. None of the material here feels fresh and despite the punch-ups that were done before filming there ain’t nothing in here that feels like it’s speaking to a modern audience.
This is compounded by Clooney’s directing choices which are just… Well, wrong. He tries to force the thing to play out like a drama, with some comic moments sure, but the driving force all lies in the character motivation and intrigue. Which, like, the script don’t contain any. The script is the broadest comedy you can imagine, it needs space to be silly and goofy, there are physical gags quite clearly written in which are just blown past without anything happening.
Like, the one person who seems to get it is Oscar Isaac. Despite his presence in the marketing he’s a literally in two scenes, both on the same set, he can’t have been on set long. He goes full on cheeseball as an insurance fraud investigator up against criminals so incompetent that they both wilfully incriminate themselves the first time they meet him. There’s some business they go about with a poisoned drink and Isaac is playing it real silly, but Robert Elswit’s camera and Alexandre Desplat’s score just be trying to ratchet up the tension.
Even despite all that, those two scenes are the closest the film gets to living. If Moore could be having as much fun as she did in Kingsman earlier this year, or Damon in Thor, then this could have been easily elevated. As it is it just feels like the film at war with itself. Every part just pulling in some different direction except the right one.
At least it’s another chance to get to see Oscar Isaac’s beautiful, talented face.
Suburbicon is currently screening in UK cinemas