Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Suburbicon is George Clooney’s first attempt to direct a Coen Brothers movie.  The brothers reportedly wrote the script as far back as the eighties, but never got around to making it themselves.  Enter their frequent collaborator Clooney, along with his writing partner Grant Heslov, and the project is finally seeing the light of day with Matt Damon in the lead as an average suburban father whose seemingly peaceful life goes askew.  The plot and tone of the movie definitely scream “this is a Coen Brothers film,” but it ultimately is missing the panache of their iconic directing style.

The movie takes place in a hyperreal suburban town in the 1950s that promotes diversity, but defines diversity as white people who have moved there from out of state.  When an African-American family moves into the neighborhood, the townspeople are beside themselves and begin a protest in an effort to scare them away.  But young Nicky who lives next door is encouraged by his aunt and mother to invite the family’s son to play baseball, which begins a friendship.  That night, Nicky’s house is broken into by a couple of sadistic thugs who terrorize him, his parents, and his mother’s twin sister.  This horrific crime begins a string of events unlike any the town has ever seen.

Nicky is played by relative newcomer Noah Jupe, while his parents are played by stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore.  Moore also plays her twin sister, Nicky’s aunt.  For the actress, it is the second time this year she has played a character who is sort of the stereotypical fifties housewife, but with something of a dark side (she was the out-and-out villain in Kingsman: The Golden Circle).  Both stars are very good here in this black comedy, a style of film neither has spent much time in.  Oscar Isaac is the acting highlight of the film, though, stealing scenes later in the film as an insurance investigator.

The movie tackles some very tough themes in a darkly comic way, most notably racism.  And the movie doesn’t need to.  The crime story would have been enough for this movie to be an entertaining thriller, but it scores points for trying to go above and beyond the conventional thriller to point a dark mirror back at our current society.

The movie tries hard to make its point and it is easy to see what it is trying to do, but it feels like it just misses the mark.  There’s not enough bite to it.  The funnier scenes could have been funnier, the violent scenes more violent, and the surprises a little more surprising.  It leaves one to wonder what exactly this movie would have looked like had the Coen Brothers chose to direct it themselves, but that is something we will probably never know.

Where the movie comes closest to succeeding is in the scenes of the racist mob banging drums, chanting, and eventually turning violent in an effort to scare away their new neighbors whom they consider to be undesirables.  These scenes were very reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! from earlier this year, a movie that also tries to make a big point and tackle difficult themes, but was ultimately a little more successful at it.

Suburbicon is a Coen Brothers movie through and through, combining the dark comedic violence of Fargo with the hyperreality of The Hudsucker Proxy.  But although he has made a couple of good films—most notably Good Night and Good Luck—George Clooney has yet to establish a directing style of his own and I think that ultimately hurts the end product of this film. It feels so close and yet, so far away.

Suburbicon is being released in the usual Blu-ray package today. It is also available to rent on Amazon and YouTube.

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