Review: ‘Suburbicon’ has problems deciding what it wants to be

This file image released by Paramount Pictures shows Julianne Moore, left, and Matt Damon in a scene from "Suburbicon." (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Paramount Pictures via AP)

This file image released by Paramount Pictures shows Julianne Moore, left, and Matt Damon in a scene from "Suburbicon." (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Paramount Pictures via AP)

The Matt Damon and Julianne Moore film tackles racial issues and life insurance fraud, even though one has nothing to do with the other.

On its surface, “Suburbicon” offers brilliant acting, as one would expect from stars like Damon, Moore and Oscar Isaac, as well as a beautifully-crafted setting. The world in “Suburbicon” is oddly less a 1950s Hollywood rendition of said period, but more of a retro version that makes the 50s in the film feel like Los Angeles in Rockstar Games’ “L.A. Noire.” But, “Suburbicon” is in no way a great movie. Despite being based on an original script by celebrated filmmakers the Coen brothers and directed by George Clooney, “Suburbicon” fails miserably at being an exposé of America’s racial issues due to its incredibly incohesive narrative.

The film’s main problem is that it tries to connect two plots independent of each other, hence forcing viewers to somehow concoct meaning out of nothing. The main plot in “Suburbicon” finds Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) committing life insurance fraud by having his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) killed by paid robbers. Thereafter, Gardner intends to use the insurance money to move to Aruba with his accomplice in crime, sister-in-law Margaret (also played by Moore), but his plans take a different turn when his young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), starts to uncover the truth. While all of this is going on, the film’s second plot revolves around an African-American family who’ve just moved to Suburbicon and the constant, violent harassment and abuse they get from their white neighbors. These two plots try to connect, but in the end it’s almost as if there are two entire different movies transpiring at the same time.

Now, while the narrative isn’t cohesive and there’s no clear message the film is trying to send, “Suburbicon” can still have some sort of intellectual takeaway if you are apt to make a few thematic stretches. One can take certain avenues in explaining how the dyadic obliviousness of the film’s plots are themselves an analogy to some aspect of today’s racial discourse, but still, while we can create this sense of meaning out of the film’s broken tenure, “Suburbicon” utterly fails in having a meaning of its own.

“Suburbicon” truly feels like two films in one, and while chances are that one of the two is better than the other, the truth is they are both equally bland. There’s good acting in the film, but other than an impeccable performance from Oscar Isaac as insurance agent Bud Cooper, there’s really nothing to remember in “Suburbicon.” Sure, the reimagined 50s period setting offers some type of nuance from time to time with its uncanny video game-esque aesthetic, but “Suburbicon” is a film better experienced from the comfort of your couch when you are out of movies to watch.

Rating: 3/5


Carlos Rosario Gonzalez is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at carlos.rosario_gonzalez@uconn.edu.