Written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Directed by George Clooney. Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac. The truth is that I didn’t even need to know the plot to become interested in this film. Despite hearing the word “mediocre” thrown around, I find it difficult to believe that this group of supremely talented artists won’t provide an entertaining time at the movies. From the look of its trailers, Suburbicon appears to be mostly dark comedy, and though I greatly prefer the Coens’ strictly dramatic work over their more comedic efforts, every time I see a white-collar Matt Damon losing his mind and taking on organized crime it makes me grin. I’m holding out hope that there is something of substance that will elevate this beyond just satire.
Suburbicon is wild. The Coens’ signature dark comedic touch is all over this, and its trailers, come to find out, have been a bit of a misdirection. At first glance you’d think the city of Suburbicon was a clone of Pleasantville. It doesn’t take long for that idea to be blown out of the water, though, as we learn that Suburbicon residents are quite fond of their community demographics and not very accepting of change. The surprises come pretty quickly and the setup for the main plot is intriguing. In fact, if this movie had been more of a straight-forward thriller it could have worked well.
Unfortunately, Suburbicon has no idea what kind of film it is. There are two stories taking place at once and they do not coexist well. Cuts between the two result in an odd tonal shift and the satirical nature of main plot doesn’t mesh with what’s going on in the secondary one. If the movie is trying to say something important, it fails at making that clear. Suburbicon does feature moments of genuine humor and that slick Coen Bros. writing that we know and love so well. In particular, the brief time that Oscar Isaac is on screen stands out. His charisma plays perfectly in the role this film calls for. I also rather enjoyed the twists and turns the story takes, and I probably would have responded positively to the ending if it hadn’t been ruined for me by the trailer. Why they chose to show us something in the trailer that would tip us off to the exact ending of the film 15 minutes before it happens is extremely frustrating. Maybe the studio just counts on us all having very bad memories? Regardless, it was a major mistake that negatively affected my viewing and response to the end.
The trailer for Suburbicon, sans extra story-line that didn’t fit in, is a tighter film than the finished product. Despite an incredible amount of star power attached to this project, it simply tries to be too many things at once and the result is a frustrating, confused mess. It’s not all bad, and sections of it show flashes of what could have been, but the finished (I use that word loosely) product is just not something worthy of being recommended.
Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.