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Suburbicon (2017)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-Ray Disc Released: 2/6/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/24/2018

Welcome to a little feature we're calling "Must Be Nice". Today, we're going to focus on George Clooney. This Oscar-winning actor/director/producer has certainly entered a "Must Be Nice" phase of his life. For a prime example of this, simply look at his latest project Suburbicon. It must be nice to be able to utilize a script by Joel & Ethan Coen and then call your buddy Matt Damon to star in the movie. And it doesn't hurt when you can add people like Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac. But, as we will soon see, these kinds of perks don't guarantee that a film will be good.

The year is 1959 and life is good in Suburbicon, a subdivision filled with nice houses and friendly folk. Here we find Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), a mid-mannered business-man who lives with his wheelchair-bound wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), and their young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). Rose's sister, Margaret (also played by Moore) also resides with them, so that she can help her sibling. One night, two thugs (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) break into the house and attack the family, resulting in Rose's death. Knowing that her brother-in-law is grief-stricken, Margaret decides to extend her stay with the family. And while he's distraught as well, Nicky begins to notice that there is something strange about the new living arrangements. Meanwhile, the first African-American family has moved into Suburbicon and they are not being welcomed with open arms, causing tensions to rise.

OK, here's a question -- Is George Clooney a serious filmmaker? The question isn't whether or not he makes serious films. If you look at the six films which he's directed, they've all been more of less serious dramas, although Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Leatherheads had comedic elements. No, the question is does Clooney take directing completely seriously or is it just a fun distraction for someone who is already a millionaire actor? Up until now, the answer to that question would have most likely been yes, as Clooney has shown dedication to the craft and was recognized for his efforts with an Oscar nomination for Good Night and Good Luck. But, Suburbicon is some deeply flawed and mis-guided that one can't help but wonder what Clooney was thinking.

As stated above, and in the credits, Suburbicon comes from a script by the Oscar-winning Coen brothers. That's quite a coup, right. Well, what they don't tell you is that the original script was written in the early 80s. If you look at the film, that's not really surprising, as the core story plays like a 1950s riff on the kind of shenanigans seen in Blood Simple, the Coen's first film. The main story concerns a film noirish approach to deceit, adultery, and murder. However, there are no surprises or tension here. I don't know if I was really on my game or if the movie tips its hat way too early, but I felt that every twist and turn was predictable and telegraphed. There is one death in the finale which comes out of nowhere that is shocking, but this momentary gasp doesn't change the overt cues seen in the rest of the film.

The above synopsis should have given this away, but there are two very distinct stories in Suburbicon. The racial tension serves as a backdrop to the domestic story. I don't know if the subplot about the African-American family moving in was in the Coen's original script, but, ironically, it doesn't blend with the rest of the movie. Clooney does state that this part of the film is based on real-life events and that news footage seen in Suburbicon is actually taken from a documentary called Crisis in Levittown. But, the two stories never gel. It's implied that the violence surrounding the protests also set off the violence which occurs in the Lodge household, but this is not only ridiculous, but it makes no sense. If Lodge had claimed that the intruders were black, it would have been logical, but as it stands, what the movie tells is that if your neighborhood is integrated, it will inspire white-on-white crime. What?

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of period pieces, but I'm a sucker for any movie which takes the route of "picturesque 1950s suburbia actually had a dark underbelly", which is what Suburbicon appears to want to do. But, through an odd combination of simultaneously being too over the top and yet to reserved, the movie goes nowhere. Kudos to the production design and costume teams for doing a great job of recreating the houses, cars, and clothes of the era. From a technical viewpoint, Suburbicon looks great. The acting is solid, as one would expect, but Damon feels out of place in this role and those tuning in for Oscar Isaac will be disappointed in his brief screentime. The ingredients for a good movie were there, but Clooney takes his eye off of the ball with Suburbicon, resulting in a confused mess.

Suburbicon made me wonder once again how criminals always happen to have chloroform on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look great, as the movie features some nice tones, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is notable and the depth works quite well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a period drama, we don't get a wealth of dynamic effects here, but a few scenes stand out. The riot in the finale delivers a wealth of surround sound action, and the shocking death delivers a nice amount of subwoofer. The finale also delivers some moments where sounds coming from off-screen are important and they are nicely placed in the front and rear channels.

The Suburbicon Blu-ray Disc offers a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director George Clooney and Producer Grant Heslov. "Welcome to Suburbicon" (30 minutes) examines the themes and tone of the film. Through interviews with Clooney, Heslov, and the cast, we hear about how the material was approached and how Clooney attempted to balance the various subplots. The piece also examines the look of the film and the recreation of a 50s suburb. "The Unusual Suspects: Casting" (13 minutes) looks at the characters and allows the actors a chance to talk about their roles and what it was like to work with the other performers. "Scoring Suburbicon" (8 minutes) gives Composer Alexandre Desplat a chance to discuss the film's music.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long