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Granger’s at the Movies: ‘Suburbicon,’ ‘Breathe,’ ‘The Snowman’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

One of the great disappointments of the fall season is “Suburbicon,” George Clooney’s collaboration with the Coen brothers, revolving around skulduggery in the suburbs in the summer of 1959.

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Like Levittown, Suburbia is a peaceful, prefab, homogenized community with affordable homes and friendly neighbors. Until an African-American couple, the Mayers (Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke), move in with their young son Andy (Tony Espinosa).

Their presence arouses so much ire that a racist petition is circulated and a riot erupts. The police are summoned, but no one does anything about the bigotry and torment that they’re forced to endure.

Meanwhile, across the backyard, there’s a home invasion. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his paraplegic wife Rose (Julianne Moore), their son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Rose’s twin sister Margaret (Julianne Moore) are tied up and chloroformed by thugs (Alex Hassell, Corey Allen Kotler) — and Rose dies.

But when Gardner and Margaret refuse to identify the crooks in a police lineup, plucky Nicky begins to suspect that his dour father and saucy aunt are involved in his mother’s death. That’s confirmed when he catches them having sex in the basement.

Nicky’s misgivings are shared by Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaacs), a savvy insurance claims investigator who quickly realizes that the accident that confined Rose to a wheelchair and now her death don’t seem like coincidences, particularly since dimwitted Gardner’s mob debts have been mounting.

Foolishly rewritten by director Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov (“The Monuments Men”) from a 1986 screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen, it’s not funny enough to be a satirical black comedy nor cohesive enough to qualify as a subversive crime caper.

There’s no link between the Lodges’ and the Mayers’ storylines except that their sons play baseball together. Indeed, “Suburbicon” fails on almost every level except stylish production design; James D. Bissell’s work is a superb recreation of the cheery, cloistered, superficially idyllic Eisenhower era.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Suburbicon” is a sour, substandard 4, a murky melodrama.

There are two recent films in which British filmmakers honor their ancestors: Gurinder Chada related her legacy in “Viceroy House”: now Jonathan Cavendish chronicles his parents’ lives in “Breathe.”

In 1957, it was love-at-first-sight when charming Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) saw socialite Diana Blacker (Claire Foy). Despite her family’s misgivings, they married and took off for Kenya, where Robin worked as a tea broker. Enjoying an idyllic life, Diana was pregnant when Robin contracted polio.

Paralyzed from the neck down, Robin could only breathe through a ventilator. Determined to return to England, Claire relocates Robin to a polio ward, strictly supervised by Dr. Entwhistle (Jonathan Hyde).

Miserable in that sterile confinement, Robin yearns to go home, but it’s not possible until Dr. Khan (Amit Shah) tells Claire that Robin’s respirator can work anywhere but transporting him is very dangerous.

Nevertheless, devoted Claire has Robin moved to a country home she’s purchased. There, he cannot only be with his wife and son but also his friends; one is Oxford don/amateur inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), who builds him a wheelchair equipped with a portable respirator.

Working with Dr. Clement Aiken (Stephen Mangan), director of the Disability Research Foundation, after soliciting a grant from Lady Neville (Diana Rigg), they’re determined to free other polio sufferers from prisonlike hospital confinement, a groundbreaking achievement.

Utilizing a glibly superficial, stiff-upper-lip script by William Nicholson (“Unbroken”), motion-capture actor Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings,” “Planet of the Apes”) makes his directorial debut, relying far too much on confusing, inconsistently paced time frames and gauzy, manipulative sentiment.

Background: Serkis’s sister suffers from MS, and producer Jonathan Cavendish co-founded the London-based motion-capture studio, Imaginarium Productions, with Andy Serkis in 2011.

On the Granger Gauge, “Breathe” is an inspirational, yet flawed 5, lacking the compelling depth of Stephen Hawkings’ saga “The Theory of Everything.”

When the director “The Snowman” admits that something went wrong, it’s worth noting. Here’s what Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation:

“We didn’t get the whole story, and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing, so you don’t see the whole picture.”

Alfredson added that the green light to shoot the bizarre murder mystery came “very abruptly,” and about 10-15 percent of the screenplay wasn’t even filmed. Which makes for a lot of plot holes.

Based on Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo’s pulpy 2007 thriller, the formulaic script is credited to three screenwriters — Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini and Soren Sveistrup — none of whom has an ear for dialogue or conveying the disorienting time frame changes.

The intrigue revolves around Norway’s most famous detective, chain-smoking, vodka-swilling Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), whose chaotic private life involves an art dealer ex, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her sulky teenage son, Oleg (Michael Yates), and new partner, Matthias (Jonas Karlsson).

Joined by the homicide department’s rookie, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Hole is on the trail of a serial killer who leaves a snowman figure outside the houses of his chosen victims, all of whom recently terminated pregnancies —- and the grisly dismemberments are gruesome.

Meanwhile, Katrine’s scrutinizing a smarmy industrialist (J.K. Simmons), overseeing Oslo’s bid for the Winter Games, and there’s also this creepy doctor (David Dencik).

Last but not least, another dissolute, alcoholic detective, Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer), is investigating the same killer’s crimes in the city of Bergen nine years earlier. (Kilmer’s dialogue was dubbed by another actor because Kilmer is recovering from cancer and could not talk intelligibly.)

On the Granger Gauge, “The Snowman” is a twisted, turgid 2 — with a conclusion that makes no sense whatever, yet sets up for a sequel.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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