Matt Damon Julianne Moore Oscar Isaac Noah Jupe
Suburbicon is like round 2 of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, lots of gore and misfires, and most everyone being unscrupulous and/or not very bright to the degree it makes us laugh, no matter how much gore. In this case, at least the kid Nicky (Jupe)—whom no one ever listens to—has some smarts and ability to plan ahead.
Right from the beginning, the story is a bit confusing and we have to look twice at two of the characters, then we learn they’re twin sisters, and it takes a few scenes before we know who is who. That’s a bit disorienting. The script is good (writers, the Coens, director Clooney, Grant Heslov) in doling out key facts gradually, upping the suspense and requiring the viewer to play the role of detective. But it also calls upon us to decipher the sociological messages contained in it.
The horror begins when two men come into the Lodges’ home one evening and hold them hostage. Gardner (Damon) looks terrified, but seems incapable of putting up any resistance. Soon, he, both sisters, and Nicky are tied up and put to sleep by holding a cloth (soaked with chloroform?) over their noses. The family situation changes after that, with Gardner’s sister-in-law Maggie (Moore) assuming more of a maternal role.
Threats to the Lodge family continue, and we get clues as to what the source of the problem is, but simultaneously there is a curious theme of prejudice against a black family, the Meyers, who have moved into Suburbicon, right next to the Lodges. The Lodges have no problem with this, and even encourage Nicky to make friends with their son; but the rest of Suburbicon is outraged.
What proceeds is the simultaneous undoing of the Lodge family and destructive rioting against the Meyers family next door. The only sense of this juxtaposition that I can make is that it’s a contrast between culpability and innocence. The Meyers have done nothing wrong and are being persecuted; whereas there is rampant dishonesty and cruelty in the Lodge family, extending to virtually all of Suburbicon. In fact, the thrust of the story may be to refute the common belief that most crimes are committed by people of color; whereas, the story here is that every white person, except for the child, is corrupt in some respect. Two families in the city suffer, but for very different reasons.
The three main actors, Damon, Moore, and Isaac live up to their reputations as fine actors; I would give an edge to Isaac, who lights up the plot when he is on and who shows considerable power in evoking his character. Mention should go to the child actor Noah Jupe, whose face conveys all the profound confusion, fear, and resolve Nicky is experiencing, as well as the child-like openness to new friendships.
Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney, may not have the look of black film noir which so many expected, but I think it points to a major problem in this country, the deterioration of values in many segments of our society and the unjust scapegoating of a minority. Clooney has transfigured a Coen script to make it more sociologically relevant today. Unfortunately, the message is not as clear as it should be.
A stark contrast between white-against-white crime and white-against-black crime, one more culpable than the other.
Grade: B+ By Donna R. Copeland