In late 50s America, ripe to go through the civil rights movement, an all-American picket fence town is hit with two scandals. One is a very violent home invasion and the second is that a young African-American family has moved into their town. The second, due to this being 50s America, is (quite literally) more explosive.
Based on a long discarded Coen brothers script, rewritten and directed by George Clooney; this Coen-esque tale starts off well but despite strong performances by an all-star cast, its derailed by the bloody and horrific conclusion. This is mostly due an uneven tone, a distasteful amoral centre and a clumsy attempt to insert politics into the story as a crude subplot.
Matt Damon stars as Gardner Lodge, a strong-silent type whose deep passions lie just under the surface. After the home invasion and murder of his wife, Lodge walks around numb and detached as the citizens of the town awkwardly offer their condolences. However, as the plot thickens a more darker story emerges. Julianne Moore contributes a dazzling duel performance as twins. One is the disabled and jaded wife who is murdered and the second as her more upbeat twin sister who moves in with her brother-in-law to try and give her nephew some stability at this difficult time. Oscar Issac turns up midway through and is brilliant as an investigator who has the greatest fun in toying with his prey. Greg Basaraba is also excellent as Mitch, who serves as a confidant and later protector to Gardner’s son Nicky.
At first the film runs at a solid pace, with twists which keep the audience guessing and some dark comedy. The scene of the home invasion is effective and truly harrowing as it is shown from young Nicky’s perspective. However as the grisly truth is revealed, it is hard to find a character to root for, with some of the motivations behind key actions feeling inauthentic in their brutality (unless they just happen to all be complete psychopaths). The amorality and cruelty of the main characters is particularly jarring, particularly in films ending and the moments of humour just make everything seem even more grievous. This is in particular opposition to tone of the trailers and marketing.
The secondary story based around a black dignified middle-class family moving into a white neighbourhood and the negative reaction of the town is given much weight. Unfortunately the family are not characters so much as cyphers. Although the purpose and message are good, it just doesn’t land. It also doesn’t fit well with the main action, further confusing the tone of the film.
Despite having a script from the Coens and a truly stellar cast firing on all cylinders, Clooney misfires here even with the best of intentions.
Words by Hamza Mohsin @lebadass