There’s no use beating about the bush: I really didn’t like this movie. It tries to embrace both social satire and black comedy but its tone is strangely somber and its approach heavy-handed. With a screenplay credited to Joel and Ethan Coen, George Clooney and his longtime partner Grant Heslov, it’s clear that there were smart people behind the camera, but the end result is a serious misfire. (The A-list team also includes such collaborators as cinematographer Robert Elswit, composer Alexandre Desplat, production designer James Bissell and costume designer Jenny Eagan.)

Suburbicon is set in a planned suburban community in 1959. It was built in 1947 and has been a utopian success…until the day a black family moves into the all-white enclave. Outraged members of the community swear that Suburbicon was a wonderful place to live up to that moment, and take out their anger in ugly, prolonged protest.

Meanwhile, business executive Damon and his wife suffer their own tragedy, which leaves Damon’s sister-in-law (Moore) to become a surrogate mother to his little boy. There’s more to this relationship than meets the eye, and that’s where the plot thickens.

The most notable Coen touch is the use of unknown actors with interesting faces in almost all the supporting roles. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore are good-they have nothing to prove—but they are fighting a losing battle here. Oscar Isaac steals the picture in a small but significant role as an insurance claims investigator. As for young Noah Jupe, I actually felt sorry for the boy and the character he plays: both of them are forced to witness and endure horrific scenes no child should be subjected to.

But then, I suffered, too. Suburbicon is a tough slog.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024