George Clooney returns to the director’s chair with this week’s Suburbicon. He’s brought along his partner in crime Matt Damon, who stars as Gardner Lodge, a man trying to live a peaceful 1960s suburban life with his family. But the small town they inhabit has dark secrets that are about to turn this tranquil landscape upside down.
Through a series of events, Lodge’s wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore) is killed in a home invasion. That leads to her twin sister Margaret (also Moore, natch) moving in and taking on many of the household duties in order to maintain the “normal” position in the neighborhood. While everything else is happening, Lodge is determined to protect his family, including taking on the local mob, headed by Roger (Oscar Isaac). Notably, the script was originally written by Clooney’s frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen.
“A little slice of Heaven” is what we’re introduced to on the first poster, though that seems to be referring more to the idyllic row of houses at the bottom and not the blood-stained shirt that’s seen. The starkness of the image, the white of the shirt against the dark red background in particular, works to get the audience’s attention. Below the title it’s sure to mention that the Coen Brothers were involved in writing the story as that’s going to be a big draw for a lot of moviegoers.
The second poster takes the approach of showing how all the different characters and situations are part of Gardner. So all sorts of different headshots and action photos are put in the frame of his body. “Welcome to the neighborhood” is the ominous copy at the top, particularly considering some of the gruesome scenes on display below.
The first trailer is [fire emoji] as it starts out by introducing us to a quiet, peaceful suburban street in the 1950s. But that peace is in contrast to the fact that a young boy is informed men who broke into the family house has killed his mother. Gardner will do whatever it takes to protect himself and his son, including beating gangsters to death and inviting the boy’s aunt to come stay with them. He’s not intimidated when Roger starts threatening him but continues doing what he needs to do.
You can see the Coen’s fingerprints all over the story, from the brutal violence to the dry, darkly funny moments. Clooney’s directorial style, which has always veered closer to Steven Soderbergh’s influence, also seems to work well with this material, which is far funnier than what he usually tackles. It’s an insane story and the trailer doesn’t shy away from that.
Another trailer takes a slightly different tack. The same basic premise and points are shown here, but in a more stylized way, with a tick-tock soundtrack and a different pace and approach. It’s no less effective than the first and it makes the movie look even more twisted and dark.
Online and Social
There’s not much happening on the movie’s official website. The trailer plays when you load the site, and once it’s over there main call-to-action is to again “Watch the Trailer.” There are links in the upper right to the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles that have been established, but that’s about it, not even a synopsis.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot out of the gate does nothing to hide the dark and disturbing nature of the story. While there’s not much emphasis put on the characters themselves or their motivations, it does show the brutal and twisted violence that those characters engage in, all while working to maintain the veneer of pleasant politeness we associate with the time period.
There’s been some online advertising done as well, mostly using clips and key art. On social media the trailer was used to drive interest and awareness around the time it was released.
Media and Publicity
The first shot out of the publicity gate was a brief interview with Clooney that also included some first-look photos. He talked about how the story evolved over the 20 years the Coens have been working on it as well as a few vague details about the movie. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also was slated for the Venice Film Festival.
A brief interview with Clooney in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview had him talking about how he’s been involved with the movie in some way for decades and how he was happy to not act for a change. He also reassured people that yes, it’s a comedy, albeit a dark one and revealed that Coen Bros. regular Josh Brolin shot scenes for the movie that were later cut, but not without a good reason.
How Clooney approached Damon with the story, Damon’s take on the character and how the story is still relevant in today’s world were all covered by the actor here. The long history of the project as well as the ties to and relevance in today’s political world, along with the changes that were made in the wake of the most recent presidential election, continued to be themes in interviews with Clooney.
Clooney showed up on “Kimmel,” which of course included a surprise appearance by Kimmel nemesis Damon. The two also made other press rounds on TV.
I’ve stated often how I’m predisposed to like new Coen Bros. material. I’ve been less of a fan of their work when it’s interpreted by other directors (I’m looking at you, Bad Santa), but overall I dig their worldview and approach.
That’s the vibe being sold here. As stated above, there are elements of their involvement that are clearly evident in some of the marketing material, even when it’s not explicitly stated. That forms a pretty important hook for the campaign, which wants to reach people like me that are fans of the brothers as well as the critics who often champion their films.
Aside from that, this looks dark as heck. There’s a comic touch to some of the material on display but it’s all tinged with a cynical perspective that may turn off some audiences. What’s being sold here looks rough and not exactly uplifting. Plus, I’m sure there are at least a couple subplots that are completely unseen in the campaign, which may lead to some upturned expectations when people finally start seeing the movie.
All that together means the movie could have a tough time connecting with audiences this weekend.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.