They say if you put a half-decent screenplay in the hands of a good director, it should lead to a fairly good film. Why scriptwriters, the Coen Brothers, who themselves are excellent auteurs in their own right, would pass a wonderfully intriguing script on to part-time director George Clooney to play with, I’m not sure.
In the hands of its own authors, Suburbicon could have been an awesomely effective movie. It’s central themes – about the shady goings-on within a seemingly normal home in a whitewashed suburban 1950s neighbourhood – would have played out brilliantly had the Coens taken direction of their own seedy story. But when Clooney takes over with his somewhat more ‘classic’ Hollywood approach to directing, shooting and editing, the film gets filled with so much faux gravitas, it almost comes across as comical.
While a Hitchcockian-style soundtrack is perfect in a Hitchcockian-type movie, where everyday characters suddenly sway into dark and surreal scenarios, said soundtracks should be toned down when… well, when the director isn’t Hitchcock.
It’s not that Clooney’s hand at this retro noir thriller doesn’t see it resulting in some awesome cinematography laced with quirky mis-en-scene, and dotted with wildly radical characters. Indeed, the guy is an expert surgeon in piecing all those parts together (since, yes, money can buy that). It’s just that when too much investment has gone into creating classic backdrops, classy costumes, and a killer soundtrack (I just about died when I started to hear strains of Rear Window spiked with Psycho in there), and little left over to inject into tightening the script with honest intention, such surreal exercises remain just that – too strange to take at face value.
There is a subplot in the film that focuses sharply for a moment on the issue of racism. A black family moves into the house next door to the seedy picket-fenced central home. And while said family are blatantly attacked by violent xenophobes, their home torched, their livelihood and sanity obviously shattered, this particular storyline is left in the air like flickers of ash after the putting out of a massive bonfire.
But then, this sudden, erratic display of racism happening right next door to the whitewashed façade in the midst of this suburban block is the stark message Clooney was probably going for: showing us the real problem of America today – where marginal groups are victimised and scrutinised unfairly while traditional, evil politics steal the power.
A white neighbourhood of racist thugs attacking a defenseless, beautiful black family while the real villains and their sins are conveniently contained in the abode next door, with a huge picket fence dividing their lives and truths: I’d go so far as to say it’s the perfect metaphor for Trump and his wall…
Despite much of its over-the-top representation of domestic deceit, when all is said and done, any film that stars Matt Damon as a broken corporate hack (kind of like a cross between Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman and Michael Douglas’ Fallen loser), alongside Julianne Moore in not one, but two, pivotal roles (she plays a pair of twin sisters, one of whom dies in conspiratorial circumstances), has to be seen by lovers of quirky cinema.
Moore’s bizarre turn as a humble aunt-come-sadistic killer is definitely one for the cult archives. Which is where this film would best remain if it is to earn the credence Clooney and the Coens are apparently chasing in this odd-way epic adventure. But, like I said, epic for some of the wrong reasons. Antonino Tati
‘Suburbicon’ is in cinemas now.