Movie Review: “Suburbicon”

Suburbicon

“Suburbicon” – a film review by Gary Chew

Gary Chew

George Clooney’s new directorial effort is a period piece — dark with satiric messaging. Time is set in a swatch of American history all too clear in my mind: 1959. As Joel and Ethan Coen contributed to this clever, full-of-surprises script and Alexandre Desplat makes wonderful reminiscing with music you’d swear was written by the long departed Bernard (PSYCHO!) Hermann, we’re off, running, to be terribly entertained, yet contend with a movie that provides the following mix: humor and menace, with an artfully presented yet accurate social message twisting through it all. It’s not America at its best – if you know what I mean.

Suburbicon Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is a businessman who lives in an idyllic community with Rose, his wife (Julianne Moore); Nicky, his son (Noah Jupe) and his sister-in-law, Margaret (again, Julianne Moore). Young Jupe is really spot on here; he was also in the TV series, The Night Manager. As usual, in both roles, Moore is back with another first-rate performance. Isn’t that the only kind she gives?

Spoilers come early, making it difficult to keep all surprises secret. So, it must be noted that Rose is dispatched by night intruders at the Lodge’s home; otherwise, the rest of the family escapes mostly unscathed. What follows is the unraveling of why the Lodge family has been assaulted, with a subplot ongoing at the home of the people next door who’ve just moved to the neighborhood.

They’re known as Mr. and Mrs. Mayer — and son Andy, who’s about Nicky’s age. The Mayers are the first African American family in one of the many neat neighborhoods of this moderately-sized burg of Suburbicon. I don’t think it’s necessary to mention that, up and down the street, everyone’s lawn looks totally manicured. What’s more, several folks in the area drive totally new-looking Oldsmobile 98s. Such cool cars they were! (A high school friend of mine used to drag race other guys in new Olds 88s, and win.)

The Coens know how to find the right feel for a period picture. They’ve done them before. And with Clooney’s perspective, you know all that “glittered” prior to the civil rights strife in 60s America was certainly not gold. What’s uncovered, on more than one level, shows Suburbicon is neither that shining city on Reagan’s hill, nor that the Lodges stand tall in all that blinding light in the latter days of the 50s.

The opening act is not confusing, although presented in such way that requires you navigate through it, for a time, as it settles you down into the flow of the remaining narrative and its startling revelations. I guarantee that there’ll be moments when you’ll laugh as well as cringe. The Coens are so smooth with how they dream up movie yarns. It’s said that Clooney and Grant Heslov also assisted in tweaking this tale.

Secondary characters are well cast. A favorite rather new film guy I wish did more face time on the big screen is aboard. That’s Oscar Isaac, playing a rather inquisitive insurance investigator named Bud. Isaac first appears just after halfway through the film in a solid scene with Moore in her role as the sister-in-law. (Funny stuff about stuff not so funny.) The house-invading thugs carry good weight, too.

Glenn Fleshler, you saw in HBO’s True Detective, plays Sloan (You don’t wanna get in Sloan’s way). His sidekick wears a cigarette tucked above his right ear, and possibly may have been influenced by Elvis Presley’s appearance only a few years earlier. He’s called Louis and played by Alex Hassell. And, another “as usual” mention in terms of excellent acting: Mr. Damon always does his best, and that’s pretty damned fine, I’d say..

Oh, by any chance — have you ever seen Fellini’s Satyricon?

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Gary Chew
Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.
Gary Chew

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