Moving into any neighbourhood with a glossy surface and overly eager postmen would make anyone feel uncomfortable, but contextualise the setting in 1950’s suburban America and you get an odd combination of Pleasantville meets The Sopranos. The Cohen brothers have toiled with violence and humour in the same breath before, with proved in Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou. Shooting in this instance, they miss their mark.
George Clooney has already made his directorial debut with Goodnight and Good Luck, and follows his 2005 feature with less gusto. Matt Damon is Gardner Lodge, a middle class VP of a financial firm who schemes with Maggie (Julianne Moore) the twin sister of his wife Robin (also Moore) to cash in on a fraudulent insurance plan. He risks not only the life of son Nicky (Noah Jupe), but the peaceful exterior of the town, a mask that is already being lifted with the arrival of African American family the Mayers (featuring Save the Last Dance’s Karimah Westbrook). Mixing these unprecedented and unwelcome neighbours, amidst a backdrop of a sinister plan that crosses paths with the Mob and an insurance agent who sees red flags in their claim (Oscar Isaac, The Force Awakens).
A shining star (if there is one) is the innocent relationship between Nicky and the Mayers’ son Andy and their oblivion to the prejudice of the wider town. It’s almost redeeming seeing a heartwarming friendship blossom, even if fleetingly and for the initial purpose of Maggie keeping tabs on her neighbours. Soon the riots that allude to the Klan and the closing force of unpaid debts all close in and the film becomes an unthreaded mess. Even a solid cast and well-intentioned commentary on the perceived loss of the ‘perfect white American suburb’ cannot wipe the bloodstains off this one.
If you do decide to see it, make yourself a strong cup of tea first.