Racist distractions have always served criminals well

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens Friday 27
3 out of 5

There’s no way Suburbicon could be considered an average film. It’s hyper-topical — fear of the “other” prevents us from noticing the true monsters in our society — and it’s directed by proven commodity George Clooney from a script from the Coen Brothers. The cast — Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac — is so overqualified Josh Brolin’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

In spite of all that, Suburbicon barely adds up to the sum of its amazing parts.

Probably because reality has become so absurd that satire can’t keep pace.

Damon taps into his dark self as Gardner, a presumably average 1950s suburban dad. His home is invaded by a couple of thugs and his wheelchair-bound wife (Julianne Moore) is an unintended casualty of the break-in (or is she?). Nicky (Noah Jupe), Gardner’s son, can’t understand why his dad is so jumpy, or what’s going on between him and his aunt — who happens to be his late mother’s identical twin.

Even though there’s something obviously fishy going on, the police and the suburban community are otherwise occupied harassing a nice black family that has just moved into the white-bread neighborhood. Clooney — who also co-write the script — layers it thick, but in days when Trump’s America can’t grok why NFL players kneel, this may be the only way to get through.

Suburbicon could be described as a mix of Fargo and Blood Simple by the way of Tim Burton. It’s entertaining, but it’s hard to shake the feeling we’ve seen all this before. Contract killings? Check. Harebrained criminals? Check. Dark humour? Double check.

Clooney’s films are often tightly staged (see Good Night, and Good Luck) and this one feels particularly airless. Coen alum Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) as a wily claims investigator provides the single breath of fresh air in the otherwise hermetic tale. It doesn’t help that the suburban neighborhood is only barely less stylized than Edward Scissorhands’ over-the-top setting. This approach only increases the distance with the audience.

While Matt Damon is the star of the film on paper, he’s more of a foil to true lead Noah Jupe (villainy suits Damon well, as seen in Ripley, School Ties and the Weinstein scandal). This is all well and good, but the young Jupe can’t possibly compete for attention against two Oscar winners or the urgency of a family being bullied out of their home. The unbalance affects the entire movie.

Then again, the movie has a point. I was originally going to give Suburbicon a weak 2.5/5 rating (in letter grades, about a “D”), but since recent events prove Clooney and co. understand the American situation all too well, I can’t. Disproportionate fears of immigrants and refugees while affordable healthcare and environmental protection are systematically dismantled in plain sight reveal the American elite’s true (ugly) priorities. Any two-bit hustler can use this phenomenon to his advantage, whether he lives in 1950s suburbia or the White House.