Friday 23 August 2019

A neighbourhood watch with a twist

Trouble brewing: Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in Suburbicon
Trouble brewing: Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in Suburbicon

Paul Whittington

Thirty odd years ago, the Coen brothers dashed off a Hitchcockian murder mystery set in 1950s suburbia. But they chose not to make it and their script gathered dust until the mid-2000s when it was rediscovered by George Clooney. He originally planned to star as well as direct, but film projects have a nasty way of dragging on and, in the end, it's Matt Damon who takes on the role of Gardner Lodge, a 1950s suburban father.

Gardner lives with his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) in the idyllic neighbourhood of Suburbicon, a tidy sprawl of neat, identical homes. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone's white, but trouble brews when an African-American family moves in. Outraged KKK types appear from nowhere, remonstrating angrily and keeping up a barrage of noise day and night. Racism is learned and no one it seems has bothered to teach it to Nicky - he's tentatively making friends with the black couple's boy when disaster strikes.

Two criminals break into the Lodge home late one night in 1957, tie the family up and kill Gardner's wife Rose (Julianne Moore) with an accidental overdose of chloroform. But when Rose's twin sister Margaret comes to stay and Gardner becomes suspiciously close to her, Nicky begins to smell a rat.

Suburbicon makes much of the venality lurking behind the carefully tended facades of post-war America's newly minted suburbia, and is not without its moments. But the film's thriller plot functions fitfully and there's a curious deadness to the enterprise as a whole.

The black family seem to be included as symbols rather than characters and their story feels tacked on, conveniently topical.

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Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell have always seemed an unlikely double act, but proved surprisingly funny when they appeared together in the 2010 cop spoof The Other Guys. Their comic chemistry was undeniable and made their next collaboration, Daddy's Home (2015), just about bearable. In that film, Ferrell played Brad Whitaker, an effete, earnest stepdad who's doing his best to bond with his partner's two kids when their real father shows up. Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg) is a handsome, strutting, motorcycle-riding macho man, and a feud develops that soon spirals out of control. Occasionally funny, but nothing to write home about, Daddy's Home went down a bomb in the US, which brings us to this sequel.

Dusty and Brad have forged a friendship and operate seamlessly as 'co-parents' until their two fathers (played by Mel Gibson and John Lithgow) show up for Christmas, unleashing disasters of all kinds. It's more of the same, and is probably funnier than the first film, but Daddy's Home 2 is the opposite of subtle and Gibson's performance is bizarre.

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In 1960, a 26-year-old Englishwoman with no academic qualifications arrived in the wilds of Tanzania to study the habits of chimpanzees. Jane Goodall had been sent by Louis Leakey, a Kenyan palaeoanthropologist who believed chimps might have a lot to tell us about how early man had behaved and survived. Jane, a gorgeous National Geographic documentary, uses fabulous 16mm archive footage and interviews with Goodall herself to document her achievements in the field.

"My mission," she explains, "was to get close to the chimpanzees, live among them, be accepted. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could… and move among them without fear, like Tarzan." She located a chimp community and, after months of waiting, her patience paid off: the animals got used to her, descended from the trees to investigate and soon began to forget she was there at all. The wonders she witnessed are accompanied by a suitably dreamy Philip Glass soundtrack in this absorbing documentary.

- Paul Whitington

Suburbicon

(15A, 104mins)

Three stars

Daddy's Home 2

(PG, 100mins)

Three stars

Jane

(No Cert, IFI, 90mins)

Four stars

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

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