So here we have: a movie directed by George Clooney, who made the excellent Oscar-nominated Good Night and Good Luck; a movie written by the Coen Brothers, who’ve made some of the very very best films of the last 30 years; a movie starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, both nominated multiple times for Academy Awards. Can’t miss, right?
What a mess. The movie is Suburbicon, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how such accomplished filmmakers screwed things up so badly. Much of the movie centers on Damon, who’s one of the Coens’ occasional regular-guy-in-over-his-head characters, as he tries to execute an insurance scheme along with his wife’s sister, while everything around him inevitably goes very, very wrong. This is well worn ground in film history, and it occasionally works, but the problem here is that Damon’s character is not at all sympathetic—he’s kind of a scumball, lacking the tragic layers of, say, the character of Jerry Lundegaard in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece Fargo. We’ve just got no reason to want anything good to happen to Damon. Or really to anyone else, for that matter—almost no one in the movie is likeable, except for I guess Damon’s kid, who’s as close to hero as we have, and an insurance investigator played by Oscar Isaac, who seems to exist in his own version of this movie, a much snappier and cheekier version that actually could have been good.
And I haven’t even mentioned the bizarre subplot that involves a black family moving to town and being disturbingly received by the lily-white residents of Suburbicon, first met with suspicious glances, and eventually escalating to outright violence and destruction. The thing is, this has pretty much nothing to do with the movie Matt Damon inhabits. Is this just another way of showing us that there’s always a seedy underbelly to a seemingly idyllic neighborhood? That’s been done plenty of times before, and far better.
Ultimately, I can’t quite figure out why Suburbicon was even made. It’s an ugly, sad rehash of previous Coen Brothers tropes, gives us active reason to dislike nearly everyone in it, and teaches us essentially nothing about our world. How did it all go so wrong?