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George Clooney flexes his directorial muscles once again with Suburbicon, a thriller set in an idealistic 1950s community.
The film opens with a community’s less-than-happy discovery of a black family, the Mayers, moving in. From there, the movie takes off with a story that poses twists in nearly every scene. The central family, the Lodges, live behind the Mayers, where things turn nightmarish after a home invasion. The family, led by father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), is rocked to its core, and Gardner’s son Nicky (Noah Jupe) becomes the audience’s look into the situation as it unravels.
By placing the action around what Nicky sees and understands, the movie takes on a new level of suspense. The young boy might not understand the full picture, but he understands enough. He’s been through a traumatic experience and can’t cope. His family is a mess and his father seems to be hiding something. Between all of that, he’s also trying to understand why his new friend Andy Mayers, (played by Tony Espinosa) and his family are being targeted by the entirety of Suburbicon. Nicky’s difficulty to make sense of things works fine, since he’s a child in a confusing situation. But I can’t help but wonder if maybe the production team didn’t have everything figured out either.
The third act is where the mystery around the Lodge family is completely blown out of the water by insurance claims agent Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac). Cooper’s appearance and performance relieves some of the film’s tension. He’s charming and charismatic at first, but quickly becomes just as manipulative and calculating as the rest of the white population of Suburbicon.
Damon’s portrayal as the head of the Lodge family is especially strong. In his first few scenes, he is nothing but a supportive, caring father. But once Nicky starts overhearing conversations and making connections, Gardner becomes shifty and untrustworthy, and Damon delivers. Julianne Moore is also great in the dual roles of Gardner’s wife, Rose, and sister-in-law, Margaret. As with Damon, she goes from the loving and sweet aunt to an imposing figure and subtle threat. In all, the cast was great, and no character felt forced or was lacking in comparison to others. The biggest issue with the film was its refusal to be just one film.
In Suburbicon, several thriller-tropes are played out, which made some scenes more predictable than others. There was also a bit of imbalance between the different stories. While undertaking a movie that explores racial tension, murder mystery and satiric commentary on the “all-American” family was ambitious, it was also a hindrance. Each theme is done fairly well, but since there are jumps from one to the next, no storyline really got the attention it needed to shine. It’s not the best film Clooney has directed, but it’s an interesting premise and a fine way to spend an hour and a half.
With Halloween tomorrow, Suburbicon is a great choice for audiences who want to be thrilled without having to deal with nightmares or over-the-top violence. And while it’s in no way one of the best movies of 2017, it’s certainly not a bad film.