Written by the Academy Award wining Coen Brothers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney himself, this odd piece of satire on the American dream turning into an uncontrollable monster nightmare has its wicked charm but unfortunately fails. But better an ambitious failure than a simple minded film with no faults – I always say.
The film is set in the fictitious community of SUBURBICON – of perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences (as in similar films, FAR FROM HEAVEN, PARENTS), one can tell something is amiss or going to go terribly wrong. In PARENTS, the boy discovers that his parents barbecue human flesh and in FAR FROM HEAVEN, the husband comes out of the closet. In SUBURBICON, the father of the family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) hires two killers to do away with his wife in a home invasion scenario so that he can be with her sister, Maggie (both roles played with Julianne Moore with blonde and brunette hair). They plan to go to Aruba with the collected insurance money. But things get complicated, particularly with the interference of an enterprising insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) who ends up being poisoned by Margaret. Their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe) is totally aware of everything that is going on, as he is always snooping or eavesdropping. Father has no qualms with doing away with the meddling son, just as the cannibalistic dad would gladly eat his son in PARENTS. (The film feels very similar to PARENTS at some points.) A lot of fun in the movie is observing how Nicky discovers what is going on and tries to save his own life.
SUBURBICON’s humour and writing has the distinct Coen Brothers touch, especially in the way events suddenly occur out of the blue and how violence can also suddenly come into the picture (reference: the Coen’ ARIZONA). But the humour can be so sly and at times so dead-pan, that the humour can be missed. Also, the film unfolds at a dead slow snail’s pace. One would definitely fault the film’s direction and editing, though Clooney has directed a few outstanding films in the past.
The art direction of the 50’s idle housing estate is nothing short of perfect. As the camera pulls back, one can see how all the houses and streets are interconnected.
The film also intercuts into the main story a side-plot of the first coloured family that moves into SUBURBIA. From initial surprise to full outrage, the neighbourhood finally riots right outside the coloured family’s house. Ironically the two boys, the coloured boy and Nicky become the best of friends, playing throw and catch baseball, the typical American sport. The two kids show how adults should behave.
Despite the film that illustrates Murphy’s Law that if anything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time, the film does end beautifully on an optimistic note, which almost saves the film. One plus of the movie is French composer Alexandre Desplat’s score that includes some suspense music as heard in a typical Hitchcock film.
SUBURBICON premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed reviews. Still, it is an interesting failure, and by no means a dull piece despite its slow pacing.