You can take a movie out of the Coen brothers’ hands, but you can’t take the Coen brothers out of the movie. Though the co-writing auteurs ultimately forfeited the directors’ chair — passing it on to some guy named George Clooney — their imprint is all over Suburbicon, a drolly absurd murder-comedy (is there any other Coen kind?) set inside a prefab 1950s community whose placid surface barely covers the teeming mass of human cockroaches beneath. Among the bugs: Matt Damon’s meaty Everyman Gardner Lodge, Oscar Isaac’s squirrelly insurance adjuster, and a mixed bag of bigots, blackmailers, thugs, and schemers. Gardner is married to the disabled Rose but lusts for her twin sister, Margaret (Julianne Moore in dual roles), a breathless aspiring Stepford wife with highly specific housekeeping skills. Together, they have a plan to break out of the Levittown-like Suburbicon, barring certain aggravating roadblocks — including Gardner’s young son, played by angelic British newcomer Noah Jupe.
Clooney has admitted that parts of the script were radically reworked midstream (an entire supporting turn by Josh Brolin landed on the cutting-room floor), and it’s hard to say whether those tweaks alone are responsible for the film’s lumpy tonal shifts. The ruthless persecution of the town’s sole black family, for one, is portrayed with a rawboned ugliness that clashes queasily with the high-camp casual violence in other scenes. The movie does get some fun gory mileage out of its cracked-Pleasantville premise; but mostly it feels like broad farce madly in search of a cohesive center, and a soul. C+