Suburbicon wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a darkly comic domestic crime caper à la Fargo—not too surprising, as it comes from an unused Coen brothers script that director George Clooney and collaborator Grant Heslov have stripped for parts. It also wants to be a slightly histrionic Hitchcockian thriller with Oresteian overtones, as well as a skewering of 1950s white-bread suburban America. Most significantly, it wants to be an urgent social commentary about race relations in America, and it’s this last Jenga piece that brings the whole thing crashing down.
Clooney almost pulls it off. The Coen-y bits are pretty great, as Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore) deal with the aftermath of a home invasion that’s only the tip of a bigger, crime-filled iceberg. But we also follow Gardner’s young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) as he struggles to recover from the trauma, and the movie shows early signs of tonal unbalance when it juxtaposes ostensibly serious scenes of Nicky’s increasing isolation with tongue-in-cheek, Father Knows Best–style suburban pastiche.
Maybe this isn’t the best backdrop to introduce a subplot about a black family moving into the Lodge’s all-white neighborhood, especially when the bigger themes it touches on are dealt with so obliquely. The viewer eventually realizes, with a sickening sense, that the only reason the movie is making us watch angry mobs of vile white people spew hatred at this black family is because the plot needed a way for the neighbors and police to be distracted from the wacky crime shenanigans going on over at the Lodges’.
The movie recovers a little with the entrance of Oscar Isaac as an insurance claims investigator—thank you, Oscar Isaac, for doing what you could—but in the end, the movie’s a sour mishmash of too many ingredients that shouldn’t have been mixed together. There’s probably a good, ghoulishly funny half-hour episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents somewhere inside Suburbicon. But it’s surrounded by window dressing of the most cynical sort: hot-button issues shoehorned in to lend weight that, in the end, the movie is too lazy to carry.